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Building Strong Relationships
from a Distance

Two women doing a video chatIf your program has temporarily closed in response to the pandemic, you may be struggling to devise creative strategies to maintain relationships with families. You may be sharing learning activities for children, or other information to support parents who are under more stress than usual. You may also be concerned about future enrollment—and wondering how you can continue to seem essential to families when their children are at home. How can you decide what kinds of information and activities to share with families, when you know some parents are working while caring for children, and may be also supporting older children with their schoolwork? How can you be supportive of families experiencing financial strain due to job loss? How often should you be communicating with families? We’ve put together some ideas and resources to help you think through these questions and determine what’s right for your program and your families. Click on the arrows below to explore further.

  • When teachers do their best to provide “just right” support to parents, and help families feel confident in their decisions about what is best for their child, families and children will benefit. Although a trying time, this circumstance provides a unique opportunity to reflect on how well your efforts to partner with families are matched to their needs.

    What Might Work:An optional survey could be utilized to enable families to provide feedback about their situations (which may be fluid) and the types, amount, and frequency of support (if any) that they wish to receive. Teachers could utilize the feedback they receive to individualize for families similarly to how they do so for children in their classrooms. Surveys could be provided to families either via email or using an online survey generator. Here are some sample survey questions that could be used when creating an online survey for families.

    Questions to Consider:How will you differentiate your methods to meet the needs of a parent who is very involved and wants activities and that of a parent who is overwhelmed in their current situation and rarely responds to your messages?

  • Normally, teachers and families need to communicate for continuity of care. Currently, caregiving responsibilities are falling to the families. The focus of communication may shift, but many families may still want that connection and opportunity to seek advice from someone who knows their child well. You may also want to keep informed about their child’s experiences so you’ll be prepared for when they come back to your classroom.

    What Might Work: Be Open to Alternate Methods of Communication For early childhood teachers who usually see families at pick-up and drop-off times daily, in-person communication is the norm. Right now, all teachers are having to rely on technology to interact. Hopefully, you already know how each parent prefers to be contacted. Many programs are using apps like Remind, Class DoJo, and Google Classroom to share information. Email and telephone calls may be useful as well. Although families have differing access to technology, there are many internet providers that are currently offering services for free or reduced rates. (See information for CT residents)

    Questions to Consider:What methods of communication are you most comfortable with? How could you accommodate a family that has limited access to internet or technology?

  • Assure families that their child isn’t going to fall behind if they spend most of their day playing freely. The most important gift that families can provide for their young children right now is to just make sure they do have some good quality interactions every day.

    What might work: Periodically send uplifting messages that encourage families. Be realistic and focus on the positives. Offering a message like: “Your child won’t remember whether or not you taught him his ABCs during this time, but he’ll remember that he felt safe at home,” will take the pressure off, and remind them what is most crucial for their child’s healthy development.

    Questions to Consider:In what ways are you reinforcing the idea that the families are their child's first teacher? How can you empower families to feel more confident?

  • Although some families may welcome ideas to keep young children engaged, it’s essential to not overwhelm with expectations that they act as your surrogate while their child is home. Rather, families should play, explore outdoors, read and create together, and view this time as an opportunity to strengthen their bond. As a teacher, you can support this emphasis on play by reminding parents that children learn through play. (Read another teacher’s blog post about her realizations about the importance of play during this time.)

    What might work: Provide a menu of activity options from which they can choose. Ensure that it includes various types of simple activities that will appeal to a wide audience. (Not all families enjoy arts and crafts, some prefer active play, for example.) Suggest that they choose among those activities that are a good match for both themselves and their child. Enjoyable interactions will more likely reduce stress and provide an opportunity to strengthen attachment.

    Questions to ConsideR:If you are suggesting activities to do at home, are the ideas open-ended, culturally appropriate, and suitable for families with limited supplies?

  • Some families may have the time and inclination to focus on their child’s learning. If they ask what more they can do, you could share resources used by your state or program.

    What Might Work:
    - Your state’s Early Learning and Development Guides. Standards and guidelines fluctuate state-by-state, but most states have resources available online for families. (Supporting All Children Using the Connecticut Early Learning and Development Standards: A Guide for Families is an example from Connecticut.)
    - If your program uses a screening tool such as the ASQ (a parent-completed questionnaire), you could continue to make those available for families’ use. 
    - CDC’s Milestone Tracker App is a child development app that families can use to track their child’s development.

    Some of the children in your programs may be entering Kindergarten in the fall, and parents may be anxious about their readiness. Families should not be expected to “homeschool” their children, but you can point out types of playful interactions, basic household tasks, simple games, and activities that can support development.

    Questions to Consider: Are there ways that you could differentiate the suggested home activities for each child in your class? When communicating with parents concerned about their child's academics, how can you strike the balance between addressing their worries while emphasizing the importance of family time and play?

  • Help families in need by providing information about resources in your community. For example, if your program had been providing meals, is there somewhere in town where they can go for food support? Are there places offering free access to internet for distance learning?

    What Might Work:
    - Share links to guidance that national organizations have developed for families about supporting children during COVID-19 such as: CDC's Talking with Children About COVID-19.
    - The CECE has compiled a wealth of information and resources to support parents who are faced with the task of working from home with their young child home with them. Tips for Families Working From Home includes screen-free activities, online learning tools for children, ideas for family fun, as well as strategies to manage stress and anxiety during this time.
    - Colorin Colorado has many great resources for ELL families and teachers serving them, such as translation tools, ways to stay connected despite a language barrier, and the importance of check-ins.
    - These two printable and customizable books may help young children better understand the changes happening around them. The Mask Wearing book helps to explain the necessity of masks to young children. The COVID-19 Book (available in English and Spanish) clarifies what the coronavirus is and helps to ease any worries a child may have.

    Questions to Consider:What community resources could you share with your families to help them better access what they need? With all public libraries closed, how can you help families have access to books, virtual books, or audiobooks for their child?

  • Image of Niloufar RezaiDuring these uncertain times, many early childhood educators are finding themselves in uncharted territory and grappling with many questions. Program Director at the Child and Family Development Resource Center at ECSU Niloufar Rezai spoke with Terry Surprenant from the Center for Early Childhood Education of strategies, challenges, insights, and hopefulness during a virtual interview. To watch the video, see below.
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Read a transcript of the complete interview.