Being Brave in Family Engagement – In English or Beyond

Build strong connection with families without English fluency to activate and support child learning!

Chances are that you have clicked on this blog because you liked the title. Who doesn’t want to be a little braver? You might be thinking to yourself, “What does being brave have to do with family engagement?” The answer to that is: a lot. When you mix in languages other than English, bravery becomes even more important.

The Courage to Connect

Courage in family engagement requires all of us to open ourselves to connections. This openness looks different for each family. That diversity means that a lot of ideas and tips can help us all figure out how to connect. When working with a family who speaks a different language, it’s even more important to have solid strategies.

The benefits of strong relationships with parents is nothing new – you likely focus on it every single day. It is perhaps even more important with families who do not speak English fluently. Strong partnerships result in more supportive care for children. Parents, guardians, caregivers and educators have always interacted. But the term “family engagement” offers a new focus to what you are already doing. Engagement isn’t just relating to one another – it’s working in partnership with families to better care for and educate their children.

Best Bets for Boosting Brave Behaviors

What can you do today, this week or this month to help make you and your place of care a more welcoming place for engagement?

  • It starts with you.
    • Knowing the benefits of family engagement can help shift your – and your staffs’ — mindsets.
  • Learn to say “Welcome” in all the languages that your families speak.
    • It is one word. But it’s one that can make a significant impact with your family engagement goals.
  • Model brave behavior – and learn from children who model it for you.
    • We see children act bravely every day. They may not speak the same language or have the same ability but children reach out to one another and share smiles. They also play, hug and comfort each other because they want to engage with each other. As a provider push your boundaries by trying to learn a phrase or make a sign in the families’ language. The courage and effort are what matter, not if you get it “just right” every time.
  • Get to know your community.
    • Reaching out to organizations in your community will help you learn more about your neighborhood and assist in helping you connect with the families you serve.
  • Consider using a translation tool.
    • Download and use a translation tool like Google translate. These tech-based programs can be useful with basic communication. Many are free and easy to use.

Family engagement supports the healthy development of young children and their families. Early childhood programs have a unique chance to nurture those partnerships. Your efforts will set the tone for future academic involvement, communication and advocacy. The families we serve come from many different backgrounds and speak different languages so we must be intentional and brave to expand our inclusive efforts. Your courageous efforts towards creating a welcoming environment for all families will foster positive and productive relationships in which all will benefit.

Bonus Strategy: Build brave empathy with perspective shifting! 

Empathy begins with perspective shifting – for children, for families and for early childhood professionals! To bravely connect to families, begin by putting yourself in the shoes of non-native-English-speaking families.

Imagine you are visiting a foreign country where you do not speak the language. You go from store to store looking for someone to ask for directions to the nearest public restroom. What makes you choose which store to enter? Is it the smile on the person’s face? Did that make you feel more welcomed? Maybe there were some signs in store in English and when you stepped in someone greeted you with a warm “Hello!”

This is similar to what your families experience when they come into your space. Think of the kind of courage it took for them to learn to say “hello” and the courage it takes to communicate a want or need about their child to you. Understanding your families’ perspective will help you to engage them more consistently and effectively.