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The Preview: Early Childhood

Home visitors: Try the "developmental parenting" approach

Developmental Parenting: A Guide for Early Childhood Practitioners

See this sample scenario of a first visit that sets the stage right away to have the parent take the lead in interacting with his or her child

What is developmental parenting? Developmental parenting is what parents do to support their children's learning and development. It is what parents are doing when they clap their hands for their baby's first steps, soothe their frustrated toddler, encourage their preschool child to sing a song, or ask their first-grade child what happened at school. It is warm, responsive, encouraging, and communicative.

Parents who are living in tough economic circumstances, trying to adapt to a new culture, or struggling to survive past trauma or abuse are often too stressed or distressed to notice their children's everyday developmental needs, to see ways to incorporate play and talk in family routines, or to think about how their parenting may need to change as their children get older.

The new guide Developmental Parenting: A Guide for Early Childhood Practitioners outlines a "facilitative approach," which makes developmental parenting easier by emphasizing child development and the parenting behaviors that support it, focusing on parent–child interaction and building on family strengths. Practitioners help parents use their own skills and resources to support their children's development.

How a developmental parenting approach differs from other models

1. Developmental parenting reinforces parents' knowledge and support of their child's development

A facilitative approach maintains an emphasis on the kinds of parenting behaviors, knowledge, and attitudes that support a child's development. Parenting includes not only what the parent does with a child but also what the parent knows about the child, the parent's goals for the child, the values he or she wants to teach the child, and the home environment that the parent shares with the child.

In a parenting-focused approach like developmental parenting—in contrast to a child-focused model where the practitioner provides services to the child, or a parent-focused model where the practitioner provides services to the parent—services are delivered through the parent to the child so services always include the parent. It involves a slight shift in attitude from other typical approaches.

A focus on parents' knowledge of their child's development
sounds more like this ...

and less like this ...

"We help the parent find his own comfortable style of helping the child learn because we want the parent to know he will be able to keep supporting his child's development."

"We find 'learning activities' in what the parent already does so she will be able to keep finding new activities to support her child's development."

"We do activities with the child to provide a good model for the parent."

"We do learning activities with the child because otherwise no one else does."

2. Developmental parenting reinforces parent–child interactions that support development

To facilitate developmental parenting, the practitioner engages both parent and child together whenever possible. Activities should be scheduled when a child is awake and rested.

A focus on parent–child interactions
sounds more like this ...

and less like this ...

"We encourage whatever positive interactions the mother has with her child because the child's development can't wait."

"We start working with every family as they are, helping parents enjoy wahtever interactions they have with their child."

"We have to help the mother before she can interact well with her child."

"The parent/family/home is so depressed/dysfunctional/chaotic, we have to get things settled down before we can get the child and parent involved in activities together."

3. Developmental parenting expands on family strengths to support early development

Developmental parenting involves activities parents and children do together in their everyday lives, using materials they already have. A facilitative approach works with what the parents already know, already do, and already have. Practitioners show respect for family strengths when they ask what parents know, plan activities together with parents as collaborators, remember what parents tell them, and offer resources of information that parents really want.

A focus on building family strengths sounds more like this ...

and less like this ...

"We find out what a parent already knows about the child and talk about how to use this knowledge to support the child's development."

"We schedule home visits to include everyone in the family because parents don't parent their children separately."

"We go over lots of wonderful handouts of information they need to know."

"We schedule half the home visit for the 1-year-old and the other half for the 2-year-old."

4. Developmental parenting keeps the focus on broad foundations of development.

A facilitative approach emphasizes activities that help parents promote their children's security, exploration, and communication because these are the foundations of social-emotional, cognitive, and language development. Practitioners keep the focus on these basic areas of development because children who are secure, motivated to learn, and able to communicate will develop every day as they play, explore, and interact with the world. By helping parents focus on these basic foundations, practitioners keep the message simple while making the long-term impact stronger.

A focus on broad foundations sounds more like this ...

and less like this ...

"We help parents notice their children's development and find ways to support development in lots of areas."

"We help parents teach their children lots of words and concepts, recognizing that all language development helps prepare children for school."

"We assess each child's developmental milestones and then teach the next step in the normal developmental sequence."

"We help parents teach specific school readiness concepts like colors and shapes to their children."

For more information, see Developmental Parenting: A Guide for Early Childhood Practitioners by Lori A. Roggman, Lisa K. Boyce, and Mark S. Innocenti.

Must-have guidance for home visitors...

Developmental ParentingDevelopmental Parenting: A Guide for Early Childhood Practitioners


The Art and Practice of Home VisitingThe Art and Practice of Home Visiting: Early Intervention for Children with Special Needs and Their Families


The Home Visitor's GuidebookThe Home Visitor's Guidebook: Promoting Optimal Parent and Child Development, Third Edition


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