Engaging Families in the Early Childhood Development Story

A toolkit for
working with families
FROM PRE BIRTH TO 8 YEARS
Engaging Families in the Early Childhood Development Story
Acknowledgements
To come...




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CONTENTS
                                                INTRODUCTION                                                                3
                                                Why this toolkit                                                            3
                                                About this toolkit                                                          4
                                                Conceptual foundation of early childhood development                        6

                                                PRINCIPLE 01 – CHILDREN ARE AT THE CENTRE                                   9
                                                Brain development                                                         10
                                                Parenting behaviours                                                      11

                                                PRINCIPLE 02 – PARENTING IS IMPORTANT                                     17
                                                Parenting styles                                                          18
                                                Parenting self-efficiancy                                                 19
                                                Parent adaptability                                                       20

                                                PRINCIPLE 03 – COMMUNITIES SUPPORT FAMILIES                               21
                                                Community engagement                                                      22
                                                Engagement in practice                                                    22
                                                Engaging with fathers                                                     25
                                                Engaging grandparents                                                     27
                                                Engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families              29
                                                Engaging Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) families            32

                                                PRINCIPLE 04 – PRACTITIONER AS PARTNERS                                   35
                                                Strengths based approach                                                  37
                                                Partnership model                                                         37
                                                Adult learning methodologies                                              38

                                                IMPLEMENTATION                                                            43
                                                Planning and evaluation framework                                         44

                                                RESOURCES                                                                 57
                                                Background to the project                                                 58
                                                Key references for practitioners on early childhood development           58
                                                Key references for practitioners on neuroscience and brain development    59
                                                Extra resources for practitioners                                         60
                                                Extra resources for parents                                               61




A toolkit for working with families from pre-birth to 8 years | Engaging Families in the Early Childhood Development Story | 1
2 | A toolkit for working with families from pre-birth to 8 years | Engaging Families in the Early Childhood Development Story
INTRODUCTION
Key points
: This a toolkit for early childhood practitioners to share the early childhood
  development story in a consistent but compelling way with parents, families and
  the community.
: The premise for this toolkit is that children are at the centre of everything we do,
  and that helping children to achieve the best possible start leads to lifelong benefits.
: Parenting is a primary influence on children’s development, and parents who
  are confident and well supported can provide their children with an enriching
  environment and nurturing relationships that support growth and development.
: As practitioners, we understand that by working in partnership with parents and
  working together across disciplines, sectors and communities, we can build parents’
  confidence and provide seamless support to families.
: Engaging the wider community in the early childhood development story also helps
  to support parents and children, and contributes to child-friendly communities.
                                                                                                   Parenting is a primary influence
: This toolkit was developed because there are many misconceptions amongst
                                                                                                   on a child’s environment, and
  parents about how best to raise their children in the early years, and inconsistent
  and confusing parenting information is impacting on parenting confidence
                                                                                                   parents who are confident and
  and competence.                                                                                  well supported can offer their
                                                                                                   children enriching experiences
: The goal of this toolkit is to share a compelling story and consistent messages
  about the early years with parents, families and the community so we can all
                                                                                                   and nurturing relationships.
  contribute to children’s positive start in life.




                                               to develop in certain ways, and the              As practitioners, our role is to work
                                               environment determines how their                 with parents, parents-to-be and the
WHY THIS
TOOLKIT                                        genes are expressed. We cannot                   community to create these positive
                                               influence genes, but we can influence            experiences so children can thrive.
This is a toolkit for early childhood          a child’s environment.
practitioners to share information
                                               A child’s environment is best made               Our role
about early childhood development
                                               up of quality experiences that are loving,       This toolkit was developed after
in a consistent and compelling way
                                               repeated, consistent and predictable.            research discovered that there are many
with parents and the community.
                                               This environment contributes to optimal          misconceptions amongst parents about
The premise for the toolkit is that
                                               brain development and lays a foundation          how best to raise their children in the
we all have a positive role to play
                                               for future development and learning.             early years, and parents face inconsistent
in supporting children to achieve the
                                               Development involves the whole of the            and confusing parenting information.
best possible start. When children
                                               child – physical, cognitive, social, spiritual   Conflicting language, messages and
enjoy a great start, they can fulfil their
                                               and emotional growth and learning.               information from different practitioners
potential and be active contributors
                                               These experiences begin in the antenatal         and disciplines has contributed
to a vibrant society.
                                               period, and continue throughout the              to the confusion.
To provide children with the best start,       early years.
neuroscience, the scientific study of the                                                       As practitioners, we can best support
                                               Parenting is a primary influence on              families by commencing from the same
nervous system, shows that positive
                                               a child’s environment, and parents who           starting point, using a common language
relationships and experiences in the
                                               are confident and well supported can             and providing consistent messages
early years lead to lifelong benefits.
                                               offer their children enriching experiences       about the early years regardless of what
Children begin life with potential,
                                               and nurturing relationships. Communities         service, support or information parents
and their experiences help fulfil that
                                               can also support parents directly, and           access. This involves sharing best
potential. Genes predispose children
                                               create a child-friendly environment.



    A toolkit for working with families from pre-birth to 8 years | Engaging Families in the Early Childhood Development Story | 3
practices across disciplines, services,
                                              When we provide consistent messages we give parents the best chance
and communities, and seeing best
practices as a supplement, rather than
                                              to develop the knowledge and skills to support their child’s development.
a replacement, for our professional
knowledge and skills.                         The toolkit includes:
                                                                                            Background
                                              > A conceptual foundation for
When we provide consistent messages,
parents have the knowledge and skills           early childhood development                 to the toolkit
to support their child’s development. We        so practitioners are working from           The toolkit forms one part of the
can also support parents by working in          the same starting point                     Engaging Families in the Early Childhood
partnership with them, building on their      > Best practices for working                  Development Story project. It aligns
strengths, and promoting parenting as           with families based around                  with the National Quality Framework
a learning process, rather than a natural       four key principles of early                for Early Childhood Education & Care
or inherent skill. This encourages parents      childhood development                       and is consistent with The National
to learn through experience and seek          > Self-reflection tools for practitioners     Early Childhood Development Strategy,
assistance when required, and                   to integrate the principles and             Investing in the Early Years vision that
without stigma.                                 practices into their work with families     all children have the best start in life.
We also play an important role in linking     > A planning and evaluation                   The Engaging Families project was
parents to social and community                 framework for services to plan and          initiated by the Standing Council on
networks as communities provide direct          assess their parenting initiatives          School Education and Early Childhood
support and care to families and create       > Extra resources for practitioners and       Development (SCSEEC) and was
environments that are child-friendly            parents to engage more deeply with          endorsed by The Council of Australian
and non-judgemental. When children              the early childhood development story.      Governments (COAG). The project was
connect with their wider community,                                                         also overseen by a National Steering
they are better placed to find their place    The toolkit is not intended as an             Group with representatives from across
as citizens in their own right.               exhaustive resource or as a prescriptive      disciplines. There is more information
                                              guide. Instead, it is a starting point for    about the project’s background in the
This toolkit has been developed as            working in partnership with parents,          Resources section of this toolkit.
the starting point to help share the          other practitioners and the community
early childhood development story             to enrich children’s early experiences        The Engaging Families project aims
with parents and the community so we          and contribute to their positive futures.     to increase parents’, families’ and the
can all contribute to great outcomes for                                                    community’s understanding of evidence
children. By applying the practices in this   This toolkit was created from an              from the neuroscience about early
toolkit, we place children and families       international scan of early childhood         childhood development to achieve better
first and commence the cultural change        development toolkits, strategies              outcomes for children. The first stage
to ensure child development is a whole        and frameworks. It consolidates key           of the project reviewed and analysed
of community concern.                         principles and best practices for working     the international neuroscience evidence
                                              in partnership with families to improve       to determine messages to share with
                                              outcomes for children.                        parents, surveyed parents’ knowledge
                                                                                            and understanding of brain development
ABOUT THIS
                                              Practitioners Australia-wide, from all
TOOLKIT                                       disciplines, contributed their comments       in the early years, and identified gaps
                                              and feedback during two consultation          in parenting information.
This toolkit aims to bring best practices
                                              phases. The toolkit also incorporated         The first stage of the project discovered
together around a shared set of early
                                              findings from social research with families   that there are many misconceptions
childhood development principles. The
                                              to ensure that the language and the           amongst parents about how best to
goal is to share a consistent story and
                                              messages outlined in this toolkit are         raise their children in the early years,
consistent messages about the early
                                              relevant and engaging for parents.            and that inconsistent and confusing
years with parents, families and the
community to overcome confusion                                                             parenting information can undermine
and misunderstanding.                                                                       parents’ confidence and capability. The
                                                                                            final report from the first stage identified
                                                                                            eleven child development statements for
                                                                                            a potential social marketing campaign
                                                                                            to share the evidence with parents. The
                                                                                            child development statements report the
                                                                                            evidence from the neuroscience review,
                                                                                            and are outlined in this toolkit.




4 | A toolkit for working with families from pre-birth to 8 years | Engaging Families in the Early Childhood Development Story
INTRODUCTION




The aim of the second stage of the
Engaging Families project is to reduce
                                                 About the Engaging Families project
the confusing and contradictory                  : This toolkit forms one part of the Engaging Families in the Early Childhood
information parents receive by sharing             Development Story project.
the child development statements using           : The Engaging Families project aims to increase parents, families and community
a nationally consistent and universal              understanding of evidence from the neuroscience about early childhood
approach. This will increase parents’              development to achieve better outcomes for children.
understanding of behaviours they can
                                                 : The first stage of the project reviewed and analysed the international neuroscience
adopt during the early years to enhance
                                                   evidence to determine messages to share with parents, families and the community.
their child’s brain development and
overall life chances.                            : The first stage of the project discovered that there are many misconceptions
                                                   amongst parents about how best to raise their children in the early years, and
To share the evidence with parents and             that inconsistent and confusing parenting information can undermine parents’
the community, the second stage of the             confidence and capability.
project has included the development
                                                 : The aim of the second stage of the project is to reduce the confusing and
of a social marketing plan, which is
                                                   contradictory information parents receive by sharing consistent and compelling
the foundation for a social marketing
                                                   messages about what parents can do in the early years to enhance their child’s
campaign to share the evidence with
                                                   brain development and overall life chances.
parents and the community, and this
toolkit for practitioners working with           : The second stage of the project has included the development of a social
families. This toolkit aligns with the overall     marketing plan, and this toolkit for practitioners working with families.
social marketing to increase awareness
of the importance of the early years.



                                                        CONCEPTUAL FOUNDATION
                              Principles, conceptual framework and definition of Early Childhood Development



 PRINCIPLE 01:                         PRINCIPLE 02:                        PRINCIPLE 03:                   PRINCIPLE 04:
 CHILDREN ARE                          PARENTING IS                         COMMUNITIES                     PRACTITIONERS
 AT THE CENTRE                         IMPORTANT                            SUPPORT FAMILIES                ARE PARTNERS
 Best practices                        Best practices                       Best practices                  Best practices
 > Brain development                   > Parenting styles                   > Engagement models             > Strengths based
 > Child development                   > Parenting self-efficacy            > Engagement                      approach
   statements                          > Parenting adaptability               in practice                   > Partnership model
 > Parenting behaviours                Self reflection tools                > Engaging with fathers,        > Adult learning
 Self reflection tools                                                        grandparents,                   methodologies
                                                                              Aboriginal & Torres           Self reflection tools
                                                                              Strait Islander and
                                                                              Culturally & Linguistically
                                                                              Diverse families
                                                                            Self reflection tools



                                                                IMPLEMENTATION
                                                               Planning and evaluation



                                                                   RESOURCES
                                      Key references and extra resources for professionals and parents




    A toolkit for working with families from pre-birth to 8 years | Engaging Families in the Early Childhood Development Story | 5
CONCEPTUAL FOUNDATION OF EARLY
CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT
Neuroscience provides evidence               Children also make a positive                    Communities include families, carers,
about the importance of the early years,     contribution to the wider society.               government services, businesses, and
and as practitioners, we can share           They give joy and purpose to many                community groups, public transport,
this information with parents and the        people, and help bring people together.          housing, parks and support services.
community. When the story is clear and       Consistent with the United Nations               But community also covers wider
consistent, parents and the community        Convention on the Rights of the Child,           influences like the mass media,
can understand their role in supporting      children have the right to develop in all        workplace practices and social policies.
children to grow and develop in a            areas of their lives and to have their views
                                                                                              Communities can provide direct support
positive and enriching way.                  and opinions heard and considered.
                                                                                              and care to families, but they can also
The first step in ensuring clear and                                                          create an environment in which children
consistent messages is a shared              Principle 02 –                                   are welcomed and encouraged. Early
conceptual foundation of early childhood     parenting is important                           childhood development then becomes
development. A shared conceptual                                                              a platform for community development,
foundation allows us to work from            The second principle recognises that             and economic and social prosperity.
the same starting point. It provides         parenting plays an important role in
practitioners from across disciplines,       children’s development. Neuroscience
                                             shows that parenting influences early
                                                                                              Principle 04 –
services and communities with a
common language to consider early            childhood development, and contributes           practitioners
childhood development.                       to children’s life chances. When parents
                                             develop deep and loving relationships
                                                                                              are partners
The conceptual foundation includes           with their children, they offer their children   The fourth principle acknowledges that,
four key principles, a framework and a       an enriching environment in which to             as practitioners, we play an important
definition of early childhood development.   grow and learn.                                  role in supporting parents and families.
                                                                                              We can encourage parents to be
Principle 01 – children                      Positive parenting involves being
                                             loving and setting consistent and clear
                                                                                              independent and self-reliant, and build
are at the centre                            expectations. Positive parents adapt to
                                                                                              on parents’ strengths and resources.
                                                                                              This builds parents’ confidence
                                             their children’s changing needs, and raise
The first principle acknowledges that                                                         and capability.
                                             their children with confidence.
children are at the centre of everything
                                                                                              Providing support to families is a
that we do. Neuroscience highlights the      Confidence develops over time as
                                                                                              partnership between ourselves and
importance of the early years for the        parents build their knowledge and skills,
                                                                                              parents, where we work together with
development of the whole child. Physical,    connect with others, and ask for support
                                                                                              parents to enhance and enrich family
cognitive, social, spiritual, emotional      when needed. Consistent parenting
                                                                                              life. When we also work in partnership
learning and growth are all intertwined      messages and information, as well as
                                                                                              with other services, disciplines and
and they all develop over the life course.   practical and emotional support, help
                                                                                              communities, we can offer continuity
Brain development in the early years         build parents’ confidence and capability.
                                                                                              of support.
lays a foundation for future development
and learning.                                Principle 03 –                                   When we begin from the same starting
                                                                                              point, use a common language,
Positive experiences and relationships       communities                                      provide consistent messages, and use
pave the way for optimal development.
Children are active participants within      support families                                 best practices alongside our current
                                                                                              knowledge and skills, we offer families
their environment and in their               The third principle incorporates the             the best possible support.
relationships with others. They bring        neuroscience finding that a child’s
their own personalities and characters       environment and their relationships
to experiences and relationships,            with others impacts on their brain
and they are acutely aware of                development and overall development.
family dynamics.                             It is not only the child’s home situation
                                             that impacts on development, but also
                                             the wider community in which they live.




6 | A toolkit for working with families from pre-birth to 8 years | Engaging Families in the Early Childhood Development Story
INTRODUCTION




     Conceptual model                                                        Definition of                                    Glossary
     The conceptual framework for                                            early childhood                                  Parents
     early childhood development is                                          development                                      The term ‘parent/s’ includes: ‘carers,
     Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Model.
     The model emphasises the interaction                                    There are various age ranges used to             foster carers, relative carers, stepfamilies,
     between a child, their genetics, their                                  define the early years. The National             grandfamilies and others who have a
     environment, and their relationships                                    Early Childhood Development Strategy,            direct full-time, part-time or occasional
                                                                             Investing in the Early Years, identifies         parenting role’ (WA Department for
     with others. The model is also consistent
                                                                                                                              Communities, 2010).
     with the four principles of early childhood                             early childhood development as ranging
     development outlined in this toolkit.                                   from before birth through to the first eight
                                                                                                                              Families
                                                                             years of life. The definition in this toolkit
     The model views the child as central.                                                                                    The term ‘families’ refers to ‘any of the
                                                                             uses the same age range. However,
     It acknowledges that children are                                                                                        wide variety of home arrangements that
                                                                             there is an understanding from the
     influenced by the settings in which they                                                                                 people establish to care for and rear
                                                                             neuroscience that the first five years are
     live, and that the child’s family and home                                                                               children’ (DEEWR, 2012 Engagement).
                                                                             vitally important for brain development.
     life is the most important setting.

     Other important settings are the child’s
                                                                             Consistent with the four principles and          ECD Workforce
                                                                             conceptual framework outlined above,
     extended family, friends, child care,                                                                                    The ECD workforce is defined as
                                                                             early childhood development
     playgroups, schools, health services                                                                                     practitioners working with families
                                                                             is defined as:
     and other cultural groups. A child’s                                                                                     including, but not limited to:
     wider social setting, including economic,                               ‘the physical, cognitive, social and             > Coordinators and managers
     political and environmental issues, also                                emotional growth, learning and                   > Educators in education and
     influence development. The conceptual                                   change that is influenced by the                   care services
     framework guides a shared definition                                    interplay between the whole child,               > Education assistants and
     of early childhood development.                                                                                            para-professionals
                                                                             their genetics, the environment and
                                                                             their relationships with others.’                > Childcare workers for pre-primary
                                                                                                                                and primary aged children
                               po   litical, social and                      The definition focuses on development
                           cy,                            en                                                                  > Parent education workers
                   p   o li                                 vir
                                                               o               as a process rather than as a set of
                                                                                                                              > Early childhood intervention
                                                                   n
              c,                    nts, networks                                outcomes or policy interventions.
                                me                  an                                                                          professionals
                                                                   m
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                                   an            ne                                         outlined in this toolkit serves   > Community service workers
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                                                                                            as the basis for a shared         > Midwives
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                                                                    rvices
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                                                                                             childhood development,
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                                          Child                                                                               > General practitioners
                                                                                             and is our platform for
          Safety                                                   Parks                                                      > Paediatricians
                                     Ho                 Peers                                sharing the early childhood
                                          usehol d
                        Friends
                                                           Local                                                              > Social workers
Drought
            Child
                                            Cultural
                                                            Govt              Child         development story with parents
            care       Neighbours                                              care                                           > Speech therapists
            Specialist            Church
                                             groups Sporting                  policy       and the community in a
                                                       clubs                                                                  > Occupational therapists
              services           members                                                  consistent and compelling way.
                                              Employment
      Housing        Playgroups                                                                                               > Physiotherapists
       policy                            Health
                             Schools   services      Industrial                                                               > Psychologists.
                                                      relations
                    Economic
                    conditions         Social
                                     norms and
                                      attitudes


                                       Bronfenbrenner (1979)                 Self reflection questions FOR PRACTITIONERS
                                                                             : What is my view of early childhood development? How does it align with the view
                                                                               of early childhood development outlined in this toolkit?
                                                                             : What new insights can I gain from the view of early childhood development
                                                                               outlined in this toolkit?
                                                                             : How will a common view of early childhood development help me when working
                                                                               across services and disciplines?
                                                                             : How motivated am I to engage with families about early childhood development?
                                                                             : How can I make a difference to families so children have a positive start?




             A toolkit for working with families from pre-birth to 8 years | Engaging Families in the Early Childhood Development Story | 7
8 | A toolkit for working with families from pre-birth to 8 years | Engaging Families in the Early Childhood Development Story
PRINCIPLE 01:
                                                           CHILDREN ARE
                                                          AT THE CENTRE
                                                  CONCEPTUAL FOUNDATION
                         Principles, conceptual framework and definition of Early Childhood Development



PRINCIPLE 01:                    PRINCIPLE 02:                        PRINCIPLE 03:                   PRINCIPLE 04:
CHILDREN ARE                     PARENTING IS                         COMMUNITIES                     PRACTITIONERS
AT THE CENTRE                    IMPORTANT                            SUPPORT FAMILIES                ARE PARTNERS
Best practices                   Best practices                       Best practices                  Best practices
> Brain development              > Parenting styles                   > Engagement models             > Strengths based
> Child development              > Parenting self-efficacy            > Engagement                      approach
  statements                     > Parenting adaptability               in practice                   > Partnership model
> Parenting behaviours           Self reflection tools                > Engaging with fathers,        > Adult learning
Self reflection tools                                                   grandparents,                   methodologies
                                                                        Aboriginal & Torres           Self reflection tools
                                                                        Strait Islander and
                                                                        Culturally & Linguistically
                                                                        Diverse families
                                                                      Self reflection tools



                                                          IMPLEMENTATION
                                                         Planning and evaluation



                                                             RESOURCES
                                 Key references and extra resources for professionals and parents




    A toolkit for working with families from pre-birth to 8 years | Engaging Families in the Early Childhood Development Story | 9
Key points
: Children are at the centre of everything that we do, and the early years are an
  opportunity to foster development of the whole child.
: Neuroscience research shows that the interactions between genetics and early
  experiences shape the architecture of the brain, which impacts on a child’s future
  development, learning and wellbeing.
: The neuroscience review from the first stage of the Engaging Families project
  identified a number of child development statements to share with parents and
  the community. These statements convey evidence about the importance of the
  early years.
: Social research was conducted to test parents’ understanding of the
  child development statements. The statements were then translated into
  parenting behaviours.
: The parenting behaviours offer suggestions for what parents can do with their
  children in the early years to give them a positive start, and are grouped around
  the four themes of Play, Talk, Learn and Care.
: Most parents are well intentioned but are worried about whether they are raising
  their children in the best way, and they like to have a sense of control and choice
  over how they raise their children.
: As practitioners, we can present the parenting behaviours as themes or a
  ‘framework’ for raising children rather than prescriptive practices so parents
  can tailor the information to their children.




The first principle in early childhood development is that children are                     wellbeing. The evidence suggests that
at the centre of everything that we do. Neuroscience highlights the                         development of the human brain begins
                                                                                            before birth and continues throughout
importance of the early years in developing the whole child. The early
                                                                                            life. The first three years of life are when
years are an opportunity to foster physical, cognitive, social, spiritual,
                                                                                            the most rapid growth occurs.
emotional learning and growth, which enhances children’s overall
health and wellbeing so children can lead fulfilling and enriching lives.                   Both nature and nurture shape children’s
                                                                                            brain growth. Children begin life with
                                                                                            potential and their experiences help
Consistent with the United Nations                                                          fulfil that potential. Genes predispose
Convention on the Rights of the Child,                                                      children to develop in certain ways, and
                                              BRAIN
the early years are also about respecting     DEVELOPMENT                                   the environment determines how these
and encouraging children’s participation,                                                   genes are expressed. Early experiences
hearing their voices and valuing their        The Engaging Families in the Early            create a platform for the development
strengths. Children are active members        Childhood Development Story                   of future brain connections and skills.
of a vibrant community, contributing          project began with a review of the            These early experiences have a
energy, creativity and character to places    neuroscience evidence to answer               greater impact on development than
and relationships.                            two important questions:                      heredity. Adverse experiences lay a
                                              1. What is the impact of brain                fragile foundation, whereas enriching
To support the development of the
                                                 development upon early                     experiences lay a solid foundation.
whole child, it is important that we
understand the latest research from              childhood development?                     Toxic stress can damage the developing
the neuroscience. This section includes                                                     brain and lead to lifelong problems in
                                              2. What are the child development
information on brain development,                                                           learning, behaviour, and physical and
                                                 statements to be shared with
child development statements from the                                                       mental health. Toxic stress can begin
                                                 parents and the community?
neuroscience, and ways to share these                                                       before birth, as shown by recent studies
child development statements with             Neuroscience research shows that the          on the negative impacts of alcohol
parents and the community.                    interactions between genetics and early       and tobacco on the unborn child. In
                                              experiences shape the architecture of         contrast, positive conditions support
                                              the brain, which impacts on a child’s         healthy development. Good nutrition,
                                              future health, cognitive, social, spiritual   both during pregnancy and after birth,
                                              and emotional development, learning and       and experiences that are repeated,



10 | A toolkit for working with families from pre-birth to 8 years | Engaging Families in the Early Childhood Development Story
PRINCIPLE 01: CHILDREN ARE AT THE CENTRE




consistent, and predictable build the                         The science of early childhood development
brain’s architecture.
                                                1. Child development is a foundation for community development and economic
The active ingredient in developing                development, as capable children become the foundation of a prosperous and
early brain architecture is the nature of          sustainable society.
children’s relationships with their parents
and other carers. Nurturing relationships       2. Brains are built over time.
engage children in the human community          3. The interactive influences of genes and experience literally shape the architecture
and help them define who they are,                 of the developing brain, and the active ingredient is the ‘serve and return’ nature
what they can become, and how and                  of children’s engagement in relationships with their parents and other caregivers in
why they are important to other people.            their family or community.
Children experience better outcomes
when they form a secure attachment with         4. Both brain architecture and developing abilities are built ‘from the bottom up’, with
someone who responds to their physical,            simple circuits and skills providing the scaffolding for more advanced circuits and
emotional, social and learning needs with          skills over time.
consistency and warmth.                         5. Toxic stress in early childhood is associated with persistent effects on the nervous
We have an opportunity to help shape               system and stress hormone systems that can damage developing brain architecture
positive early environments and                    and lead to lifelong problems in learning, behaviour, and both physical and mental
relationships by communicating in a clear          health.
and consistent way the importance of            6. Creating the right conditions for early childhood development is likely to be more
the early years, and how parents and               effective and less costly than addressing problems at a later age.
communities can support children to
achieve a positive start in life.                   Center on the Developing Child (2007) The Science of Early Childhood Development:
The Center on the Developing Child                       Closing the Gap Between What We Know and What We Do, Harvard University.
at Harvard University outlines these
important points about the science
of early childhood development.




PARENTING BEHAVIOURS
The neuroscience review from the first stage of the Engaging Families in the Early Childhood Development Story identified a number
of child development statements to share with parents and the community. The child development statements convey evidence
about the importance of the early years.


                                                Child development statements
1. The first five years matter and last a lifetime
Brain development is strongly influenced by good and bad experiences. Experiences shape brain development by connecting
neurons and forming neural pathways. The brain remains plastic throughout life, but the early years are particularly important
for shaping the brain.

2. Children are born ready to learn
A child’s brain begins developing at conception, and during the first five years it grows faster than at any other time in its life.
Children need good early experiences throughout pregnancy and childhood to help build a strong brain architecture.

3. The brain develops through use
The brain relies on experiences for growth and development. The brain does not change unless it is stimulated by the
environment. There are some ‘critical’ periods where particular areas of the brain are more highly sensitive to environmental
cues, accelerating growth.

4. Good nutrition, health, and exercise are critical
Good health for children begins with the mother’s health in pregnancy. Children need healthy and nutritious food, exercise and
a good night’s sleep to make the most of early learning experiences and to set themselves up for future health.




   A toolkit for working with families from pre-birth to 8 years | Engaging Families in the Early Childhood Development Story | 11
5. The best learning happens in nurturing relationships
The active ingredient in brain development is relationships.
Children’s brain develops best when they feel loved and secure, when they experience a warm and calm environment, and when
people pay attention and respond to their needs.

6. Children’s wellbeing is critical to brain development and learning
Wellbeing is an indicator of healthy brain development and functioning. It is linked with self-regulation, improved problem solving
and effective leaning. Wellbeing incorporates physical, social, emotional, cognitive and spiritual aspects, which are interrelated
and synergistic.

7. Children’s self-regulation is critical for learning, responsibility and relationships
Self-regulation, or the ability to regulate your behaviour, emotions and thinking according to the situation, is a cornerstone
of early childhood development. Relationships which respond to a child’s changing moods, feelings and interests, help a child
develop self-regulation.

8. Children learn through being engaged and doing
Children learn by doing, trying things, and exploring their world.
Play, more than any other activity, promotes healthy development of children, including emotional, social, motor and cognitive skills.

9. Children learn from watching and copying
Children also learn by watching and copying others around them. Repeated observation of actions increases brain activity and
allows children to understand and imitate the actions of others. This helps children to learn without requiring direct instruction.

10. Children learn language by listening to it and using it
The brain is biologically primed to acquire language, and experience is the catalyst. Reading and talking to children develops
children’s language skills, vocabulary and verbal abilities.

11. Children are born ready to use and learn mathematics
Experience is also the catalyst for acquiring numerical skills. From birth, babies are open to mathematical ideas such as counting,
adding, subtracting, dividing, sorting, shapes, patterns, and matching.



The Engaging Families project explored
parent’s knowledge and understanding          Core message: Brain development story
of the child development statements.
The research found that parents               Most of the brain’s development occurs in the first five years. How
generally recognised the importance           the brain develops depends on the quality and frequency of positive
of nurturing relationships, a language        activities, including parenting.
rich environment, and good health
and nutrition. But they are less
knowledgeable about brain development         Grouping the ten behaviours
and its impact on children’s overall
development and longer term outcomes.                                             > Being consistent in the approaches you use with
                                                                                    your children
Parent were also confused about what
to do with the children to offer them the        > Playing with                   > Using established routines for your children
best start in life. Based on the research,         your children                    around meals, play and sleep times
the child development statements                 > Encouraging                               > Setting clear limits for your children
were re-written to focus on parenting              your children                               > Being physically active and eating
behaviours so parents were aware of                to play            Play       Care            healthily with your children
what they can do with their children to
support their development. It includes
the brain development story as the core
message, and suggestions for parenting           > Reading to        Learn        Talk         > Being attentive to your children and
behaviours grouped around the four                 your children                                 responding to their needs
themes of Play, Talk, Learn and Care.            > Counting with                         > Spending time talking and listening
                                                   your children                           to your children




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PRINCIPLE 01: CHILDREN ARE AT THE CENTRE




The research with parents tested the parenting behaviours and discovered how they were received.


Parenting behaviour          Parents’ views                                                         How to help parents

Play
Play with your children      Some parents, particularly dads, enjoy playing with their              Legitimise and motivate parents
                             children. But when there are competing demands, play is                to play with their children
                             overlooked, which can lead to emotional conflict and guilt.
Encourage your children      Play is seen as ‘coming naturally’ so it isn’t viewed as important     Validate and reinforce playing with
to play                      to encourage children to play. But parents agree that it’s             their children
                             important to get children away from TV and ‘get them started’
                             with play.

Talk
Spend time talking           Parents understand that talking and listening to children              Motivate and encourage parents
and listening to             develops communication skills, helps children feel valued and          to talk and listen to their children
your children                develops a loving relationship. Day to day pressures can get in        by building it into their day
                             the way of talking and listening.
Be attentive to your         Parents initially view their children’s needs as physical, including   Legitimise parents being attentive
children and respond         being safe, warm and fed. They are often overwhelmed by their          and responding to their children
to their needs               children’s needs and do not want to ‘spoil’ their children by          without over doing it
                             responding to every request or demand.

Learn
Read with your children      Parents understand the importance and value of reading with            Reinforce and remind parents of the
                             their children. Many parents have time to read with their children     value of reading with their children
                             every day.
Count with your children     Counting with children is well accepted by parents, but many           Motivate those parents who aren’t
                             are unaware of its long term benefits. Parents see ways to count       counting with their children and
                             with their children are part of everyday activities rather than as a   reinforce with those parents who are
                             discrete activity.

Care
Be consistent in the         Parents struggle to be consistent with their children. Parents’        Motivate and encourage parents
approaches you use           emotional energy, patience, guilt and fatigue often lead to            to be more consistent
with your children           inconsistencies. Parents are more likely to ‘cave in’ in certain
                             situations such as when out in public.
Use established              Routines polarise parents. Some parents believe routines can           Legitimise routines and motivate
routines for your children   provide order in the house, creating a sense of security for           parents to use consistent but
around meals, play           children. Other parents reject routines that are too inflexible        flexible routines with their children
and sleep times              or strict.
Set clear limits for         Parents agree that setting clear limits is important, but they         Motivate and encourage parents
your children                aren’t always clear about what limits to set. Limits are commonly      to set clear limits
                             set around safety, eating, TV time, bedtime and manners. But
                             parents acknowledge that it was not always possible to enforce
                             limits particularly when not at home.
Be physically active         Parents are aware of being physically active and eating healthy        Motivate and encourage parents
and eat healthy food         food but they don’t always act accordingly. Some parents               to be physically active and eat
with your children           use food as treats or bribes and some parents struggle with            healthy food with your children
                             fussy eaters.


Most of the behaviours were accepted by parents, but some of the behaviours need to be validated and reinforced amongst
parents. For other behaviours, parents need to be motivated and encouraged to use them more frequently.

The research also revealed information about the world of parents, which influences how parents interpret the early childhood
development story and the parenting behaviours.




   A toolkit for working with families from pre-birth to 8 years | Engaging Families in the Early Childhood Development Story | 13
The world of parents                                                                             Parents find raising their children both
                                                                                                 challenging and rewarding. Most parents
: Parents want their children to grow to reach their potential, and be happy and well            are well intentioned but are worried
  adjusted adults who can work within and contribute to society.                                 about whether they are raising their
: Parents are well intentioned and are trying to consciously do the ‘right thing’ by             children in the best way. They view
  their children. But most parents have a constant, underlying sense of guilt about not          their children and their family situation
  doing enough of the ‘right thing’.                                                             as unique, but don’t often self-reflect
: Raising children is both fulfilling and frustrating. Parents take joy in watching their        on how they are raising their children.
  children develop and grow, and they love to see them happy and fulfilled. But                  Below are factors that are more likely
  parenting is also frustrating and challenging.                                                 to engage parents in the early childhood
                                                                                                 development story, and factors that are
: Parents don’t necessarily think of their children’s development in years. Instead, they
                                                                                                 likely to disengage parents.
  think of stages or milestones.
: How parents themselves were raised shapes the style and approach of their own
  parenting. They either wish to replicate or avoid what they experienced growing up.
: There is a very strong sense that all children are different, requiring different parenting
  approaches, not only across families, but within a family.
: Parents don’t like being judged by other parents but they frequently judge others
  and themselves.
: Daily parenting is a habitual, largely unplanned activity. It is not on the ‘jobs
  to do’ list.




Factors to engage parents                        Factors to be cautious                          Factors to avoid with parents
                                                 of with parents

Empathy and realism                              Common parenting approach                       Generalising parents
Parents like others to acknowledge that          Parents resist the idea that there are          Parents don’t like to be viewed as
raising children can be challenging and          specific activities that all parents ‘should’   one homogenous group. They see
that it’s not always possible to be the          do because children are viewed as               themselves and their families as
‘perfect parent’. But it’s important not         unique and different. Parents are also          unique and different. They don’t want
to dwell on this issue because parents           worried about not doing the ‘right thing’       to be grouped with ‘bad’ parents.
can see change as too difficult.                 by their children.

Control and choice                               Parents are the primary influence               Specific behaviours
Parents like to make their own choices.          Parents feel pressure and guilt at being        Parents don’t want to be told to raise
It gives parents a sense of control and          the primary influence on their children’s       their children in an overly prescriptive
acknowledges that every child and every          development. They acknowledge the               way. They want control and choice.
situation is different. Parents don’t like       important role that other people play
specific ‘must do’ lists.                        in their children’s lives.

Holistic view of children’s’                     Importance of 0 – 5 years                       Judgements (positive or negative)
development                                      Parents don’t like to hear about how            Parents do not like being judged
Parents like the ‘whole child’ view              important the 0 – 5 years are for their         or compared to other parents.
of development. They didn’t like a sole          children’s development. They worry that         Feeling judged adds pressure and
focus on academic achievement.                   their children are doomed if they haven’t       discourages engagement.
                                                 done enough. They also believe that
                                                 there are other important stages
                                                 of development.

Positive and hopeful tone                                                                        Condescending language or tone
Parents responded well to positive and                                                           Parents do not like to be ‘told what
hopeful language and tone. Negative                                                              to do’. A patronising tone leads
statements were de-motivating.                                                                   to disengagement.




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PRINCIPLE 01: CHILDREN ARE AT THE CENTRE




Parents like to have a sense of control and choice over how they raise their children.      As practitioners, we understand that
They view their children and their family as different and unique. Parents do not like      parents play an important role in
to be told what to do. Instead, they prefer empathy, understanding and support to           providing positive experiences and
raise their children in a way that suits their family.                                      a positive environment for their children
                                                                                            and contributing to their positive start
For this reason, we can present the parenting behaviours as themes or a ‘framework’
                                                                                            in life. When we provide parents with
for raising children rather than prescriptive practices. Parents can then try a range
                                                                                            consistent messages about the early
of options, and tailor the information to their children.
                                                                                            years and promote parenting behaviours
                                                                                            that support their child’s development,
Ideas for activities for and with parents                                                   parents can build their confidence
This section outlines ideas and suggestions for parents and families to interact and        and capacity.
engage with their children, based on the parenting behaviours. You may like to use
these activities in handouts or information sheets for parents.


Play                                                                                        Key ideas
> Play with your children, and encourage your children to play
> Sing songs, draw, read, write, tell stories and share jokes
                                                                                            FOR PARENTS
                                                                                            Parents can help their children enjoy
> Do pretend play with boxes, pots, pans, dress ups
                                                                                            a positive start by:
> There’s no need for expensive toys, products, programs or equipment –
                                                                                            : Being loving and affectionate, warm
  an interested parent is a child’s best toy!
                                                                                              and responsive
> Keep television to a minimum as children learn best from hands-on activities
                                                                                            : Speaking, playing and engaging with
  rather than TV.
                                                                                              their children
Talk                                                                                        : Using a wide vocabulary with their
> Be attentive to your children and respond to their needs                                    child and talking about numbers,
> Spend time talking and listening to your children                                           patterns and time
> Ask your child questions, ask for their ideas and opinions, and include them              : Involving their child in everyday tasks
  in conversations with others                                                                and going out into the community
> Ask your child to recall things they’ve done, places they’ve visited and people           : Establishing routines, rituals and
  they’ve seen to build their memory                                                          rhythms for the day
> Talk to your child as you’re doing everyday tasks – tell your child what you’re           : Establishing limits and offering calm,
  doing and what’s happening around them.                                                     clear and consistent guidance suitable
                                                                                              for their child’s developmental stage
Learn
                                                                                            : Helping their child understand and
> Read to your children                                                                       express emotions
> Count with your children                                                                  : Eating a healthy diet, being physically
> Read books and poetry, tell stories, sing songs, write and play sound, letter               active, and establishing good
  and word games                                                                              sleep routines
> Explore maths ideas with your child when cooking and sharing, do jigsaw                   : Being a good role model for their
  puzzles, block building, board games, and guessing and memory games                         child, and protecting their child from
> If you speak a second language, use it with your child from birth so they can               anti-social or aggressive behaviour.
  learn the two languages from an early age.

Care
> Be consistent in the approaches you use with your children
> Use established routines for your children around meals, play and sleep times
> Set clear limits for your children
> Be physically active and eat healthily with your children
> Cuddle, kiss, and smile with your child to show warmth, love and affection,
  and comfort your child when they are upset so your child feels safe and secure.




   A toolkit for working with families from pre-birth to 8 years | Engaging Families in the Early Childhood Development Story | 15
Self reflection questions
FOR PRACTITIONERS
: What is my view of the neuroscience evidence?
: How can the neuroscience evidence enhance our understanding of early
  childhood development?
: To what extent do I believe that parents will engage with the brain
  development story?
: How can I emphasise the importance of the early years without pressuring parents
  or stirring up guilt?
: How do I value children as people in their own right? How do I value what children
  contribute to society?
: How do I consider development of the whole child when working with families?
  How do I consider physical, cognitive, social, emotional learning and growth?
: To what extent do I agree with the 11 child development statements? How
  do they fit with my view of early childhood development?
: To what extent do I agree with the 10 parenting behaviours? How will the
  10 behaviours help families to give their children a positive start?
: What is my view of the ‘world of parents’? What assumptions do I make about
  parents ‘these days’?
: How does the way I was raised and the way I raise my children impact on my
  view of parenting?




16 | A toolkit for working with families from pre-birth to 8 years | Engaging Families in the Early Childhood Development Story
PRINCIPLE 02:
                                                                   PARENTING IS
                                                                     IMPORTANT
                                                  CONCEPTUAL FOUNDATION
                          Principles, conceptual framework and definition of Early Childhood Development



PRINCIPLE 01:                     PRINCIPLE 02:                        PRINCIPLE 03:                   PRINCIPLE 04:
CHILDREN ARE                      PARENTING IS                         COMMUNITIES                     PRACTITIONERS
AT THE CENTRE                     IMPORTANT                            SUPPORT FAMILIES                ARE PARTNERS
Best practices                    Best practices                       Best practices                  Best practices
> Brain development               > Parenting styles                   > Engagement models             > Strengths based
> Child development               > Parenting self-efficacy            > Engagement                      approach
  statements                      > Parenting adaptability               in practice                   > Partnership model
> Parenting behaviours            Self reflection tools                > Engaging with fathers,        > Adult learning
Self reflection tools                                                    grandparents,                   methodologies
                                                                         Aboriginal & Torres           Self reflection tools
                                                                         Strait Islander and
                                                                         Culturally & Linguistically
                                                                         Diverse families
                                                                       Self reflection tools



                                                           IMPLEMENTATION
                                                          Planning and evaluation



                                                              RESOURCES
                                 Key references and extra resources for professionals and parents




   A toolkit for working with families from pre-birth to 8 years | Engaging Families in the Early Childhood Development Story | 17
Key points
: The neuroscience evidence shows that parents play an important role in providing
  positive experiences and a positive environment for their children.
: There are a diversity of families and parenting approaches in Australia, and there
  is no one right way to raise children.
: Children, however, do benefit from an authoritative parenting style, which includes
  love, warmth, and consistent boundaries so they learn appropriate behaviour,
  self-regulation and increased autonomy.
: The majority of parents report that they value and are enriched by their parenting
  role, but they also acknowledge challenges and stresses, which impact on
  their parenting.
: Parenting confidence, a knowledge of child development, adaptability and
  maintaining personal health and wellbeing support effective parenting.
: When we promote parenting as a learning process where skills and knowledge
  are developed over time and with experience, we helps parents to increase their
  confidence and capability.
: Universal access to parenting initiatives also encourages parents to see learning
  as a normal part of raising children, and consistent parenting messages support
  parents to raise their children confidently.




The second principle in early childhood development is that                               to establish realistic expectations
parenting is important. The neuroscience evidence shows that parents                      of their children’s behaviour, and
play an important role in providing positive experiences and a positive                   encourages parents to adapt to their
                                                                                          children’s changing needs. Parenting
environment for their children. There is no one definitive ‘right way’
                                                                                          is best viewed as a learning process
to raise children as children can flourish in a variety of settings and                   rather than an inherent or natural skill.
with a variety of parenting approaches. However, it is generally                          Parents can develop their parenting
accepted that the best outcomes for children occur when parents                           skills and resources over time through
are loving and affectionate, and consistently set boundaries.                             experience and by seeking information
                                                                                          and assistance when required.

The authoritative parenting style             workplace flexibility and family routines   Universal access to parenting initiatives
encourages children to adopt appropriate      and rituals. The characteristics of the     encourages parents to see learning as
behaviour, learn self-regulation, and         child also impact on parenting styles       a normal part of raising children. This
build capability and autonomy. This           as children play a dynamic role in their    also encourages a whole of community
also encourages healthy relationships         relationship with their parent, and have    approach to raising children, and
that foster solid brain development.          their own character and temperament.        reinforces the importance of relationships
In contrast, parenting that is harsh,                                                     for building brain architecture.
                                              The majority of parents report that they
abusive or neglectful can create
                                              value and are enriched by their parenting
toxic stress, which can damage the
                                              role, but they also acknowledge
developing brain architecture and
                                                                                          PARENTING
                                              challenges and stresses, which impacts
lead to lifelong problems.
                                              on their confidence and capacity.
                                                                                          STYLES
Parenting styles are influenced by            Parenting confidence or self-efficacy       Buamrind has identified a number
many factors, including the individual        has been identified as one of the most      of broad parenting styles, which
character, personal background, and           important factors in effective parenting.   impact on children’s outcomes. The
health and wellbeing of the parent.           When parents receive consistent             parenting approaches differ across
Other factors include the environment in      parenting messages, and social,             two dimensions: Responsiveness (from
which the family lives, and their support     emotional and practical support, their      ‘warm’ to ‘hostile’) and Demandingness
networks. Factors that support parents        confidence grows.                           (from ‘disciplinarian’ to ‘permissive’).
include good mental health, a positive                                                    The most effective parenting approach
                                              A knowledge and understanding
relationship between parents, social and                                                  is the authoritative parenting style.
                                              of child development also help parents
community connections, stable finances,




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PRINCIPLE 02: PARENTING IS IMPORTANT




Parenting style             Authoritative                Authoritarian                Permissive                Disengaged

Responsiveness              Parents are warm and         Parents lack warmth          Parents are warm          Parents lack warmth
                            responsive                   and responsiveness           and responsive            and responsiveness

Demandingness               Parents have firm rules      Parents use firm             Parents are lenient and   Parents are
                            and clear boundaries         discipline and               make few demands          disengaged or
                                                         are controlling              of their children         neglectful and
                                                                                                                make few demands
                                                                                                                of their children

Approach                    Discipline is aimed          Discipline is aimed          Discipline is minimal     Discipline is minimal
to discipline               at supporting                at obedience and             to non-existent           to non-existent
                            children rather than         structure rather than
                            punishing them               supporting children

Parenting orientation       Parents give choices         Parents give orders          Parents give in           Parents give little
                                                                                                                or nothing

            Lexmond, J. & Reeves, R. (2009) Parents are the principal architects of a fairer society...Building character, Demos, London.


Parenting self-efficacy or confidence also impacts on parenting style.


PARENTING SELF EFFICACY
Parenting self-efficacy is the extent to which parents feel confident in their ability
to raise their children. Parenting self-efficacy involves parents believing that they can
have a positive impact on their child, and believing they have the necessary skills
to raise their child.

Parents with high self-efficacy are more effective at adapting to their child’s changing
needs, are more warm and responsive, and experience better personal wellbeing. High
parenting self-efficacy is also linked to positive developmental outcomes for children.

The most widely used measure of parental self-efficacy is the Parenting Sense
of Competence Scale, which has two factors:


                  Parenting Sense of Competence Scale
Parental satisfaction                    Efficacy
Parenting frustration, anxiety           Problem solving, competence and capability
and motivation                           in the parenting role

Zubrick, Smith, Nicholson, Sanson & Jackiewicz (2008) Parenting & Families in Australia,
       FaHCSIA’s Social Policy Research Paper, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

An Australian measure of parenting self-efficacy is being developed by the Parenting
Research Centre, which includes four factors:


                Australian Parenting Self-efficacy Measure
Self-efficacy      Personal agency             Self-sufficiency       Self-management

                Parenting Research Centre, Australian Measure of Parenting Self-efficacy,
                           http://www.parentingrc.org.au/index.php/creating-knowledge/
                          parent-wellbeing/australian-measure-of-parenting-self-efficacy




   A toolkit for working with families from pre-birth to 8 years | Engaging Families in the Early Childhood Development Story | 19
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