Asking questions is an important component of the partnering process with parents and adult caregivers. If we wish to empower, advocate, ally, or partner with parents, we must begin by asking questions. Otherwise, we won’t understand what they need, who they are, or what they want for themselves. It is selfish of anyone who endeavors to deliver supportive services in a family’s best interests, without their input- without asking the right questions to guide our efforts.
Parents may feel more comfortable with self-disclosure, exploring solutions and voicing their unique concerns when we ask questions that:
- Focus on the parents’ goals and hopes for their child
- Help parents identify and build upon their existing strengths
- Model nurturing behaviors by acknowledging frustrations and recognizing parents’ efforts.
Questions such as the examples to follow enable you to establish partnerships to help parents and adult caregivers in two ways: 1/ identify their own needs and 2/ identify their successes utilizing existing coping strategies, including personal, family and community resources. Those successes are evidence of strengths. The family strengths are labeled as “Protective Factors”. Every family possesses strengths, and we must explore with them and seek to identify and enhance these strengths by asking questions.
To help partner with families, here are some specific questions, listed within six ‘protective factor’ realms:
PARENTING AND CHILD DEVELOPMENT
What do you like about your child?
What are some of the things you find challenging as a parent?
How have you let your child know your expectations of him/her?
Why do you feel your child [cries, breaks rules, says ‘no’, eats slowly…]?
How have you seen other parents handle this? How would your own parents handle this type of situation?
How do you think your child compares to other children his/her age?
ATTACHMENT and NURTURING
When you spend time with your child, what do you like to do together?
What happens when your child…[cries for a long time, has a tantrum, skips school]?
How do you let your child know that you love him/her?
What do you do when your child does something great?
How do you engage your child during daily activities, such as mealtimes, etc …?
What do you do to take care of yourself and rejuvenate?
What kinds of frustrations or stress do you deal with throughout your day? How do you get through them when they arise?
How do you meet your child’s needs when you are dealing with stress?
What are your dreams and goals for yourself and your family? What steps are you taking towards those goals?
Do you have family, friends or neighbors who help you out from time to time?
Do you find it challenging or easy to make friends?
Are you interested in meeting with other parents who also have…a newborn, teen, enjoy cooking…?
What kind of support do you need in order to get out in the evening, attend school meetings…?
CONCRETE FAMILY SUPPORTS
What do you need to be able to remain in your home, keep your job, pay for heat and other essential services?
How have you been managing this problem so far? Is it working? Why or why not?
Did you know that…[school, other providers] offers free job training, low cost meals, childcare, …?
What kind of help do you need to access these services?
SOCIAL /EMOTIONAL COMPETENCE OF CHILDREN
What happens when there’s a conflict in your home?
Are your child’s emotions ever hard for you to deal with?
What kinds of things help your child calm down when he or she is upset?
How do you talk to your child about his/her feelings?
How does your child get along with his/her friends?
The above questions help identify needs and concerns, but equally enable the recognition of strengths and protective factors of families. Each question can be used as conversation starters in parent groups at school or in the community. The exploration of questions in each section helps to develop strategies to effectively build capacity and collaborate with other community resources to strengthen and support families. Useful to school settings, understanding the complexities of families’ lives enables educators to broaden the lenses from which families of students are viewed.
A 21st Century community school does not exist or operate in a vacuum, exclusive of the community at large. Everyone has something to contribute to strengthen families, support student achievement and enhance the learning and comprehensive development of children. All sectors of the community need to be aware of the protective factors of families and understand how everyone can play a role in building on these factors to support and strengthen relationships with families.
All K-12 public schools should operate as a collaborative partner in the process of facilitating total community wellness. They are not only duty-bound to facilitate academic success, but they must better understand that children cannot be separated from their families or their community. Policies, programs, practices and perspectives must incorporate a holistic, whole child/whole family/ whole community framework, within which the curriculum must be intentionally inclusive of their responsibility to embrace diversity.
Ask families what they need to thrive; ask schools to be the designated full service resource center for the community. After all, partnerships with families begin with asking the right questions!