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Promoting Family Engagement: Communicating with Families

Effective communication with families is a way to promote family engagement and create strong collaborative partnerships.  When families and caregivers communicate and share what is observed and experienced, it creates opportunities to better understand and support the rapid developmental growth that happens with all children.  This lesson will highlight appropriate ways to collect information from families, as well as the ways and opportunities to share information in a caring, easy-to-understand way. 

  • Recognize the importance of communicating with families.
  • Identify elements of responsible family information gathering.
  • Recognize features of effective and non-effective communication with families.
  • Describe effective ways to share child information with families.



Communicating with others can be both simple and complex at the same time. Have you ever been surprised that someone misunderstood a message you thought you had communicated quite clearly?

Communication between caregivers and families occurs during daily hellos and goodbyes, as well as in more formal activities such as planned family meetings. All of these opportunities require you to be aware and courteous of the family’s characteristics, including tone, choice of words, and nonverbal communication, such as facial expressions and body language. When you are aware of these characteristics, you communicate in ways that are more supportive and respectful of families. Families will be eager to know how their child is doing, and you can support comfortable and effective communication by offering encouraging responses and asking for clarification if something is not understood.

Importance of Communicating with Families

Positive communication is one of the most powerful tools that you can use with families. Effective communication helps to inform, reassure, and engage families. A single conversation, positive or negative, can set the tone for a family’s opinion of a family child care provider, so it is essential to develop good communication skills early on.

Positive communication and relationships with families help to build trust. Trust plays a critical role in maintaining partnerships with families and in helping children meet their goals. Trust between you and families makes parents feel good about your home and your ability to meet their child’s needs. A strong partnership between providers and families is built on positive communication. Positive communication skills help to make sure that accurate information and expectations are shared, and trust is established.

Consider the information below and the specific communication needs that families might have as their child grows.

For Young Children (Birth-5)

Communication is the basis for any strong relationship, and it is especially important with respect to family engagement in early childhood education programs. Communicating with families is about listening, sharing information, and working toward a common understanding.

  • Make a point of communicating with parents both when they drop off and pick up their young children.
  • When families communicate with you openly and effectively, you can better understand what is happening at home, as well as what goals, hopes, and dreams families have for their young children.
  • When you communicate effectively, families are better able to understand what is happening during the day and how their children are developing and learning.
  • When you and families communicate and share information effectively, you can become more aware of the child’s strengths and possible areas of need, to better support ongoing development.

For School-Age Children

Communication is key to creating family partnerships. Communication for school-age children may be challenging because of limited interactions between providers and family. Some children may arrive or depart your home by bus, bike, or foot. This means you might not always have the opportunity to speak directly to a family member at drop off and pickup.

  • To ensure that communication needs between yourself and families are met, you will need to be creative in your communication methods.
  • Family members must feel comfortable asking questions, seeking information, and raising concerns about their child’s care, well-being, and development.
  • You should be friendly and helpful when working with family members. A relationship between a provider and a family member should remain professional and always revolve around the child.

Ways of Communicating With Families

It is important “that programs use communication practices that are sensitive to the diverse language and cultural backgrounds of the families they serve” (Halgunseth,et al., 2009). Each family teaches their young children how to be successful within their own culture, beliefs and traditions.

Communication preferences may be related to cultural or community values, priorities, and commitments. For example, Sohn and Wang (2006) found that Korean-born mothers, even those who spoke English well, had difficulty communicating with teachers face-to-face. Their preference was to communicate with teachers through email or program letters. When communicating with families, it is also important to understand and consider:

  • Different forms of greetings and use of titles that may be preferred
  • Male and female roles defined within various cultures
  • Nonverbal communication and body language (e.g., eye contact, use of touching, use of physical space)

You can ask questions to learn how families would like to communicate about their child’s day. Some families may prefer face-to-face conversations while others prefer telephone or regular (daily) notes. Each family child care home will have a variety of communication methods, both informal and formal. Depending on the situation or information being shared, you will need to determine which method is most appropriate. If you are unsure, always check with your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator.

Informal Communication Methods

Some examples of informal communication methods include:

  • Family information boards: Information posted in a central location that may include schedules, menus, upcoming events and general child care news; this can also be a good spot to post parenting resources.
  • Daily conversations: A discussion of daily events, how the child is doing, and if the family member has any questions, concerns, or requests.
  • Newsletters: Whether physical or digital, informs families of your family child care’s news, menus, activities, and events; this would be a way to share a project that children have worked on, tell families about an upcoming movie night, or share articles of interest.
  • Phone calls: A way to inform a family member of a minor incident or injury or to seek specific information.
  • Text Messages: A very informal way to communicate with families; a good way to get quick information or send general reminders; sensitive or important topics should not be discussed in text messages.
  • Family child care website: A place to find information on a computer or mobile device, it may contain pictures, schedules, menus, upcoming events, and general news (you should also check with your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator for any regulations regarding internet use).
  • Articles of Interest: Sending home or posting articles about subjects that families might be interested in is an effective way to informally share information. Often these articles can be included in newsletters.
  • Emails: A way to inform a family member of a minor incident (e.g., a torn backpack or a missing permission slip) or to seek specific information

These informal methods of communication are appropriate to use when there is general information of which all family members should be aware, such as the schedule, policies, or upcoming events. Phone calls or emails may be used to inform families of situations involving their child (such as an overdue permission slip). Whenever possible, interactions between providers and family members should occur daily. This is the first step in keeping lines of communication open in your family child care home. Informal communication methods should not be used to discuss major incidents, behavior issues, or developmental concerns.

Formal Communication Methods

Some examples of formal communication methods include:

  • Individual Conferences: Conferences should be used to discuss child achievement, behavior issues, developmental concerns, or other major issues. Phone or virtual conferences may also be used if a family member is on deployment or otherwise unavailable. Be sure to check procedures for conferences and consult your trainer, coach or family child care administrator with any questions.
  • Written or Email Correspondences: Written communications can be used to formally document an issue or concern; whether it is child behavior or parent payment issues, written correspondence and copies provide documentation for future reference.
  • Large Group Family Meetings: A group meeting may be used to discuss a particular situation, concern or issue within your family child care home. This would mostly likely occur with multiple families and would be led by the family child care provider. A formal group meeting would have a leader and a planned agenda.

Formal communication methods should be planned with the purpose of providing specific and important information. You should schedule formal meetings at times that work best for families. Do not spring difficult information on families at inconvenient times, such as during pickup. When discussing a child’s behavior issues or other concerns you may have, it is important to remain positive, respectful, helpful, and confidential. You are there to explain your concern and provide assistance and resources to the family whenever possible.

The following are tips on how to effectively communicate with families during formal meetings:

Be prepared and organized
  • Have specific examples, documentation, and photographs available.
  • Parents are busy, so being organized helps keep the meeting on track and makes it efficient and meaningful.
  • Try to anticipate questions parents may have and bring the appropriate resources.
Use the “Sandwich Approach”
  • When sharing difficult information with parents, it is best to “sandwich” it between two pieces of positive information about their child.
Be supportive
  • Be an active listener.
  • Express that you are on the same team with the goal being the child’s success.
Stay calm
  • Don’t engage in arguments.
  • If there is a disagreement, move on and discuss the situation with your family child care administrator, trainer, or coach afterward.
Leave the meeting open-ended
  • Let family members know that you are always available.
  • Make sure family members have a variety of ways to contact you such as in person, by phone, text, or email.
  • If the situation is ongoing, such as a behavior problem, set up a conference in the future to check the child’s progress.

The family conference is a great way to strengthen the family partnership. It gives family members personal attention and allows them to freely discuss their child’s development, progress, difficulties, or successes. A positive family conference will create a bond between you and the family members, which may make the family feel comfortable in discussing their child in the future.

If appropriate, invite the child to be a part of the conference. Sometimes, having the child present will give you a better understanding of the family dynamic. It will also make the child feel responsible for their own actions and give them more ownership and understanding over the situation.

In general, families will help set the pace for their communication with you. It is important to acknowledge that it can take time for families to feel safe, comfortable, and friendly. Different forms of communication can play an important role in easing the process. Using a combination of communication styles with families might work best for their needs to be met. Other ideas may be to translate written communication into the home languages of the families in your family child care home and consider having translators that are regularly available for face-to-face or phone communication.

Having Difficult Conversations with Families

Conversations with families can be difficult for a number of reasons. Sometimes, you might worry that families will be upset by something you share and even decide to withdrawal their child from your program. You may also worry the family will stop communicating with you altogether. While conversations with families about concerns may be difficult, they can provide you with an opportunity to express your care and support for a family, as well as the child’s development and learning, in a thoughtful way.

Misunderstandings can also occur as your views and understanding of a situation may differ from that of a family member. In these instances, it is helpful to consider the multiple perspectives to a situation. For example:

Example Situation

Mother picks up her child at the end of the day. It’s the third day in a row her daughter has come home messy and with dirty clothes (grass stains and finger paint).

Your Perspective

It’s important to offer children multiple sensory experiences throughout the day. Sensory experiences support learning, growth, and development.

Family Perspective

We spend money on her clothes and we need to keep them looking nice. We do not go right home after I pick her up and I do not want people thinking I do not keep my daughter clean.

The provider takes time to ask the parent questions and find out the importance of keeping her daughter clean. The provider learns that the family believes clothing is directly related to the quality of care given by their family. By sending their child to this family child care home, they believed this was like sending their child to “school” and children are to go to school clean and well dressed. This is in part how the family shows their respect for education. The provider also talks with the family about how sensory experiences are part of learning experiences and often involve messes. Through discussion, the provider and family decide that the provider will change the girl’s clothes during messy sensory play or ensure she is covered up, for example with an art smock.

When you need to discuss a serious issue with a family, a formal discussion should be scheduled. This will maximize the likelihood that all parties will be satisfied with the outcome. The parent will feel respected and able to prepare in an environment that focuses on outcomes and collaboration.

As a provider who wants to give the best possible care for the children in your home, you have an opportunity to consistently observe and learn about their development. Your observations, notes, screenings, and assessments help identify strengths and possible areas of need that might arise during the year. Sharing these concerns with families is the first step to a supportive planning process.

See the resource, Sharing Concerns with Families, for additional ideas and resources. 

Collecting Family and Child Information

Think about a situation when you were asked to provide information about yourself or your family. You may recall experiences that made you feel comfortable and at ease, and others that made you feel nervous, anxious, or uncomfortable. What was it about these different circumstances that made you feel either comfortable or uncomfortable? Maybe it was the particular way or tone in which certain questions were asked or the content or nature of information you were asked to provide?  Perhaps it was the available time you had to respond, the environment or space in which this information was shared, or maybe the opportunity to know ahead of time the kind of information you would be asked to provide?

Now think about instances when you as a professional are going to be the one collecting this information. How do you make sure to ask questions in ways that make families feel respected, comfortable and at ease? Collecting family and child information is a critical piece of your work as a family child care provider. As children and families join your family child care program, establishing strong and meaningful relationships with them starts with getting to know them. Learn about their interests, their heritage and culture, their needs, and their hopes and dreams for their children in a respectful way, and use this input to enhance the quality of your work in family child care.

As you continue to engage with families, think about how you want to be treated with dignity and respect and assume the families of children in your care want to be treated the same. During this time, it is critical to maintain confidentiality and respect families’ right to privacy.

Sharing Information with Families

Now, think about the reverse of the scenario described in the previous section: Situations in which you were the one receiving information. For example, during a visit to your doctor’s office, what were things that made you feel that the doctor or nurse sharing information with you was doing so in an effective way? What was good or not so good about that experience? What made you feel that the individual was sharing information with you in a respectful way? Was the information provided in a way that helped you understand? Did you have the opportunity to ask questions? Did you feel that the person talking to you had your best interest in mind?

Just as you have to be careful and considerate about gathering information from families, it is critical that you do the same when sharing information with families. As a family child care provider, you must help families understand their child’s development and share with them information that you have gathered about their child. This information should be shared in a respectful way and considerate of the families’ cultural and language backgrounds. Always use family-friendly language and avoid jargon, including terms or acronyms that families may not understand. For example, “cognitive development” or “developmentally appropriate practice (DAP)” may be confusing for families. Instead, try explaining that cognitive development is their child’s intellectual growth and DAP refers to best practices for a child’s individual stage of growth and development.

Specifically for infants and toddlers

Communication with families is critical to the process of creating supportive interactions and experiences for infants and toddlers. Infants and toddlers can benefit from effective communication between families and caregivers in the following ways:

  • Both families and caregivers are more aware of an infant’s or toddler’s needs on a particular day.
  • When positive, healthy communication is being modeled, infants and toddlers learn skills that will help them in their own social development.
  • Infants and toddlers can establish healthy relationships with their caregivers when they see that their families trust and communicate with them.
  • The caregiver can build more effectively on the infants’ and toddlers’ interests and developmental needs.
  • Connection between families and caregivers is an important part of developing a high-quality early care and learning environment.
Specifically for preschool aged children

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC, 2009), one of the most important issues in early-childhood policy and practice is ensuring that children are ready and prepared for successful school experiences. As children grow and approach the school-age years, families and professionals often talk about school readiness. In your work with preschool-aged children, families may ask you to share information about whether you think their child is “ready” for kindergarten.

Often, school districts and communities often develop screening programs or processes to help providers and families determine whether a child seems ready to transition to kindergarten. School readiness involves more than just children and their abilities or developmental milestones. NAEYC believes that schools are responsible for meeting the needs of children and for providing them with the services they need to reach their maximum potential. Specifically, NAEYC asserts that promoting school readiness requires: (a) giving all children access to opportunities that promote school success, (b) being responsive to children’s individual differences, and (c) establishing appropriate expectations about what children should be able to do when they enter school.

It is your responsibility to help children learn and develop at their own level and to provide developmentally appropriate services and activities that meet each child’s needs. It is not the responsibility of children to meet school expectations upon entering school. As you meaningfully plan and implement your work, you set the foundation for children’s success in school.

Considering that children in your care have varying abilities, cultural backgrounds, and diverse personal experiences, while also keeping in mind that children learn different skills at different rates, it is unrealistic and not expected that all children will demonstrate skill mastery at the same time. As you have read in the Cognitive Development course, even though most children follow universal patterns of development, there are individual differences among children that should be acknowledged. You should assume this way of thinking when considering school readiness and when sharing information with families about kindergarten readiness.

When talking with families of children in your care, consider sharing the following about what they can do to foster their children’s development and to support your work:

  • Spend time playing, talking, and engaging with your child.
  • Create routines at home that children follow (e.g., mealtimes or bedtimes).
  • Encourage and answer questions from your child.
  • Engage in book-reading with your child.
  • Familiarize your child with symbols in their environment (e.g., letters, numbers).
  • Encourage your child to talk about the world around them.
  • Provide your child with opportunities for social interactions outside of school.
  • Involve children in activities that include planning and carrying out tasks (e.g., making a list and going to the grocery store, following a recipe to cook or bake something).
Specifically for school-age children

Communicating with parents of a school-age child can offer unique challenges. As children grow, the need for communication amongst families and providers change. Unlike during care for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, once children enter school, the communication between providers and family members sometimes becomes less frequent and often only happens when there is a problem. Part of your role is to bridge the gap between your family child care home and families of school-age children by using a combination of traditional and creative communication methods. Here are some examples of creative communication methods:

  • Communication journals: A physical or online journal that allows family members to share information or photographs of their home life, such as a vacation or deployment experience. These journals can be shared among family members to help create a bond between families or passed back and forth between providers and families to share or seek information.
  • Online discussion groups or blogs: Use an online forum to allow communication between yourself and families. Using an online blog to communicate your family child care’s activities with families is a fun way to share photos, activity plans, and other information. This should be used for group information only, not information specific to one child. You should also check with your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator for any guidelines regarding privacy on internet discussion groups and the use of social media.


You should view communication with families as an opportunity to share information, observations, concerns and questions. Watch this video to learn more about the ways you can communicate with families.

Communication Methods

Watch this video about communication methods that help develop positive relationships with families.


When collecting information from families, Banks, Santos, and Roof (2003) highlight the following:

  • Consider using ongoing informal opportunities to engage in conversations with families.
  • Establish rapport with families before attempting to gather information from them.
  • Use a variety of open-ended and closed-ended questions.
  • Be respectful of families’ cultural and language backgrounds when asking questions.
  • If possible, try to gather information from several family members about a child.

Whenever possible, use specific examples (e.g., observations, examples of children’s work) to convey information about their children to families. Data can help family members understand that the information you are sharing with them is based on instances where you observed or collected information in an organized manner, as opposed to sharing things based on your personal views or opinion. As part of your work in family child care, it is likely that you collect developmental information on children through assessments, and it is critical that families have access to that information. This also enables families to follow their child’s progress over time.

A great starting point in sharing information with families about their children’s development is by inviting them to observe their children in the home. If a family is unable to observe during your family child care hours, you might ask for their permission to video-record a portion of the child’s day so that the family has an opportunity to see the child engaged in your home environment. Schedule some time after the observation to talk about what family members noticed and address any questions they may have.

There are multiple ways to communicate with families and share information. Try an idea below to communicate:

  • Use a back-and-forth notebook to share highlights from the child’s day; the family, in turn, can refer to observations and any particular needs of the child for that day.
  • Create a folder or communication journal for each family. Provide a space and way to share daily notes to and from home and collect information from a family.
  • Schedule home visits or conferences with families several times a year.
  • Inform families of community events that may be of interest, such as speakers and classes.
  • Ask families to share a “Me Book” starring their child that includes pictures and activities the child enjoys doing.
  • Take photos of children engaged in play activities and learning. Write captions for the pictures and give them to their families.


Think about times in your personal or professional life when you experienced effective communication with another individual or a group of individuals. Then think about the times in which you did not experience effective communication. What factors contributed to effective or non-effective communication in each case?

Read and complete the Thinking about Communication activity. Share and discuss your responses with your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator.

Read and review the activity, Things I Would Like to Know, which outlines questions you can ask yourself when considering the care you would provide a child. After making the list of questions, consider creating a form that you could use with families in an effort to learn more about their child. If you currently use a family questionnaire, compare your questions and see if any improvements could be made. Share your thoughts or responses with your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator.


This section includes resources to help you think about and work towards achieving effective communication with families of children in your care.

The resource, Conversation Starters, will help you think about different ways to communicate and start conversations with the families you support.

Then, review the websites in the Effective Communication Resources activity to learn strategies for effective communication with families.


Closed-ended questions:
Questions that usually elicit “yes” or “no” responses and don’t allow individuals to elaborate on their point of view
Open-ended questions:
Questions that cannot be answered “yes,” or “no,” and elicit elaborate responses; for example: What do you think is your child’s greatest strength?
Information gathered about children from assessments and observations
Words and language specific to a particular topic, profession, or group of people
A brief summary of information about your family child care activities and happenings that can be shared with families
Informal communication:
Method of providing families with general information such as schedules, daily events, or news. Examples are daily conversations, information boards, text messages, newsletters, etc.
Formal communication:
Methods of providing families with specific information in a planned and purposeful way; examples are individual conferences and group meetings
Creative communication:
Methods of providing families with information and communicating in nontraditional ways; examples are communication journals, suggestions boxes, online discussion groups, and blogs
Open-door policy:
Allowing family members of children in your program to enter your family child care home at any time during program hours to visit with their child or meet with you
Sandwich Approach:
When sharing negative information, place it between two pieces of positive information (for example: Johnny had a good day today; I did notice that he still has trouble staying on task during homework time; I know that if we work together on this, Johnny will do an even better job tomorrow)
Active listening:
A method of listening where the listener demonstrates understanding of what is being heard by restating the information (for example, a child says: “I wish I didn’t have to go to piano practice anymore,” and a parent responds, “You don’t want to go to piano practice. Can you tell me why?”)


Why are newsletters a great way to share information with families?
Of the following scenarios, which does not indicate responsible family information gathering?
 Is inviting family members to observe their child in your home an effective strategy for parents to learn more about their child’s development?
References & Resources

Banks, R.A., Santos, R.M., & Roof, V. (2003). Discovering Family Concerns, Priorities, and Resources: Sensitive family information gathering. Young Exceptional Children, 6(2), 11-19.

Diffly, D., & Morrison, K. (1996). Family-Friendly Communication for Early Childhood Programs. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Glascoe, F. P. (1999). Communicating With Parents. Young Exceptional Children, 2(4), 17-25.

Halgunseth, L., Peterson, A., Stark, D., & Moodie, S. (2009). Family engagement, diverse families, and early childhood education programs: An integrated review of the literature. National Association for the Education of Young Children and Pre-K Now.

Hanson, M. J., & Lynch, E. W. (2004). Understanding Families: Approaches to diversity, disability, and risk. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Koralek, D. (2006). Spotlight on Young Children and Families. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Lynch, E.W., & Hanson, M. J. (2004). Developing Cross-Cultural Competence: A guide for working with young children and their families, 3rd ed. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

National Association for the Education of Young Children. Engaging Diverse Families. Originally retrieved from Retrieved December 2017 from

National Association for the Education of Young Children (2011). NAEYC Position Statement: Code of ethical conduct and statement of commitment. Retrieved from

National Association for the Education of Young Children (1995). NAEYC Position Statement: School readiness. Originally retrieved from Retrieved December 2017 from

National Association for the Education of Young Children (2009). Where we stand summary on school readiness. Originally retrieved from Retrieved December 2017 from

Sohn, S., & Wang, C. (2006). Immigrant Parents’ Involvement in American Schools: Perspectives from Korean mothers. Early Childhood Education Journal, 34(2), 125-132.

Turnbull, A., Turnbull, R., Erwin, E. J., & Soodak, L. C. (2006). Families, Professionals, and Exceptionality: Positive outcomes through partnerships and trust. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.