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Childcare workers can help to support parents who are under pressure and signpost them to the help they need, according to a new book on promoting resilience in childcare settings.
Family life can be demanding. The physical and emotional toll of childcare costs, workload and family commitments can be a constant drain on energy levels, increasing and intensifying parents’ stress levels. When work hours are long or draining the added pressure of taking children to and from childcare can make the day an extremely long one.
The absence of close family living nearby, financial difficulties or recent trauma, such as divorce or bereavement, can add to the already considerable demands, making parenting extremely stressful. In worst-case scenarios, parents can find it difficult to maintain high levels of sensitivity, warmth and affection towards their own children.
In these situations early years practitioners can provide much needed support for parents.
In fact, that link between the home and the setting, the partnership between practitioners and parents and/o carers is incredibly important. The relationship can have a long-lasting effect on the children’s learning and well-being and, of course, can be a vital source of information and comfort to parents.
Practitioners’ understanding of child development and learning can help a parent through the tricky patches of parenting, particularly toileting or friendship.
Regular chats with a child’s key person can allay the fears and concerns a parent may be experiencing. Together, practitioner and parent can provide next steps and mutual support. Such interaction creates a good partnership and is beneficial for all concerned. Practitioners can also provide more focused support, through links they have with outside agencies, such as signposting parents to a speech and language therapist or health visitor.
The absence of close family living nearby or difficult relationships with family can be lonely for some parents. The routine of the visiting the provider and meeting familiar faces each day offers daily support for those parents who are struggling. In addition, the presence of other parents can spark friendships and support systems, where people are happy to extend a helping hand, providing some much needed encouragement.
Settings can support both children and parents, providing safe places where parents can openly talk about issues with trusted adults. Ideally, settings need to have an understanding and awareness of common mental health issues, providing support for positive mental health of children and parents. Understanding the issues that parents face is crucial; being understood is a powerful tool in reducing stress levels.
Financial hardship can have a detrimental effect on parents’ well being, especially if they are unable to meet their family’s basic needs. In these circumstances, settings can flag up eligible funding or benefits that parents may be unaware of. If settings are aware of difficult circumstances, they can often provide parents with information on how to seek effective support.
If parents are finding life difficult, it’s highly likely that their child may be facing similar struggles. In such instances practitioners can be a lifeline of support and encouragement to both. In particular, the special bond that key persons have with each child’s family puts them in an ideal position to offer effective support.
It is through forming such a close and trusting relationship with parents that key people are usually viewed as those who understand and appreciate the pressures parents face. This bedrock of empathy is a powerful connection. Parents can feel heard and valued and their considerable responsibility shared with willing and kindly practitioners. It is within this type of positive partnership that well being and good mental health can be both supported and sustained.
Such partnerships are part of a holistic approach to well being in childcare which also includes being able to spot the signs of mental ill health among childcare workers through Mental First Aid provision. Promoting mental well being in the early years – for parents and workers – can only have a positive impact on children, families and wider society.
*Helen Garnett is the author of Building a Resilient Workforce in the Early Years (Early Years Alliance 2019).