- Provide information about normal child development and behavior at various ages and stages, so theyíll know what to expect and "when to worry," i.e., how to recognize warning signs of problems. Provide resources to help with this, such as books, videos, checklists, guidelines, etc. A "Whatís Next?" program would be especially helpful for transitions, such as starting Middle School or High School.
- Organize peer support groups on general parenting or based on age or special need (single parents, for example). This helps parents to see and hear about what "most kids" do, whatís normal and if their child is OK. It provides a way to share ideas about handling difficult situations.
- Help strengthen community connections. Be pro-active in facilitating community use of the school for activities that bring parents together and reduce isolation. This will help parents share ideas, support each other in setting limits, consolidate community values, better understand each other and work together for their children.
- Provide a parent space in the building. It should feel supportive and welcoming. Itís best if staffed some hours but can also be volunteer-run. This space would include parenting resources, a parent bookshelf, parent magazines, a box of toys to entertain a preschooler, so that parents can drop in easily. Include information about how MCPS system works, how to help child with homework, etc. There should be a regular time when a staff member is available to answer questions about school matters. (Can be a rotating job, done by an aide, etc.) A parent space changes the role of the parent from outsider to partner.
- Set up a buddy system to welcome new families (both new to the area and kindergarten/preschool parents) into the school community.
- Recognize that parents donít have a lot of time with their kids: Donít ask/expect them to attend lots of meetings without their kids. Plan events the whole family can attend or provide babysitting on-site.
- Donít assume that parents donít care when they stay home instead of attending a meeting. Often they are simply prioritizing, feeling their time with their children is more important. Sometimes they donít see the meeting as relevant or useful to themóso itís important to assess their needs before planning
- Help parents learn parenting skills (communication, limit-setting, encouraging, building self-esteem, etc.) by offering classes, study groups, speakers and workshops on-site or off-site when that seems more family-friendly (i.e., going where the families are). Poll parents for topics rather than assuming what they want/need to know. Adult Education and various private or non-profit groups will collaborate on offering these services. Idea: provide a mechanism that helps parents organize networks to help each other supervise homework, etc. or just meet informally to support each other with parenting.
- Connect parents with resources. Send home information about such programs as Child Care Connection, the Prevention Center, libraries, recreation, Community LINC, the Parent Warmline, etc.
- Connect parents to organized and informal out-of-school activities for their children. Such activities help kids develop socially, strengthen talents, expand horizons, keep them out of trouble. Itís a parentís job to connect the kids to these, but schools can help. Be aware of safety and transportation concerns and be as helpful as possible.
- When scheduling conferences, meetings, programs, be aware that many parents are employed, have no babysitting resources, may not have transportation, etc. and be as flexible as possible.
- Understand that in divorced families, both parents need information about their child.
- Assume that all parents want the best for their child and want to be good parents. Donít (consciously or not) expect children of single parents, low-income parents, etc. to fail or get in trouble.
- Send home parenting tips in the school newsletter. Many prepackaged handouts are available and reproducible, for example the Gazette page.
- Ask staff to use notes, calls or informal contacts to tell parents good news, positive things their kids have said or done ("Joeyís so helpful to me," "Sheís always polite," etc.). This gives parents a feeling theyíre doing a good job as parents.