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Recommended reading Working well with whānau Multiple

Tui shares her tips for working with whānau to make good use of the SKIP Parenting Resource and work towards the best possible outcome for their tamariki, and the whole family.

Listening   - Whakarongo

Tui says –

Number one is that you have to be a good listener. You have to be able to engage parents in a conversation, gain their trust and ask good questions that get them talking about their kids — and listen to the answers … really listen, to understand where they’re coming from.

By listening well I learn how they see their roles as parents, and how they view their children. It’s important that I can hear and get to understand their perspective. If my version of how they’re struggling with their kids is all I can see, how can I really understand them and be able to help them? How can I know what sorts of things they might need to think about and what information they might need, if I’m only listening to my thoughts of how things are?

And the same goes for them. Until they can see that their thoughts and beliefs are just that — their thoughts and beliefs — they’re unlikely to think there might be another way of seeing things; another way of thinking and behaving.

Being listened to is one of the best things that you can experience. You feel better when you know that someone has ‘got’ your story. Your thoughts become clearer and you don’t feel so alone.

So yes, listening is number one. And being able to ask questions that are to the point, and help them to tell their story.

Questions - Ngā Patai

After the ‘hellos’ and ‘kia oras’, I find out how they’ve been going with their parenting since my last visit. I make a point of using open questions, and I keep asking open questions relating to what they’ve said — not to ‘grill’ them, but to help them tell their story and for us both to explore what’s going on for them.

Open questions are questions that can’t be answered with one word or a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. They ask for a fuller answer that keeps the conversation going. They often start with ‘how’, ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘what do you think?’ For example:

  • How is baby doing?
  • How did you get on with the activity from last week?
  • Last time we talked about [...]. How is it at the moment?
  • What’s it like caring for [baby’s name]?
  • What would you like us to talk about today?

I listen carefully to what they say and I pick up on the key points they make and ask more questions. So rather than asking questions ranging over a whole lot of topics, I notice what they say and dig a bit deeper — especially when I see it could be affecting baby. For example:

  • Yes, it can be stressful when baby’s crying. When have you noticed that it happens? What’s going on at the time?
  • How serious is this for you? When did it first happen?
  • What triggers this? What did you notice?
  • Why do you think that’s happening?
  • If you weren’t feeling so ‘stressed out’, what would [the issue] look like?

Then I might ask some questions about how they’ve tried to solve the problem, like:

  • What ways have you found that seem to make things a bit easier?
  • What do you think stops that from happening every time?
  • What have you tried to change? How did that work out?
  • How do you work out which people you can trust?
  • Is there anything else that you’d like to tell me?
  • What do you think needs to change?

Sometimes, to get them talking more, I might just leave a pause in the conversation or say something like:

  • Tell me more…
  • What are you thinking?
  • Go on…
  • What does that look like?

Or, I might just repeat a word or phrase they’ve said — like if the parent says, ‘She’s a real nuisance’, I’ll just say, ‘Nuisance?’, implying, ‘What do you mean by nuisance?’

I also think it’s important to summarise what they’ve told me every now and then. In this way I can check that I have the story straight, and it gives them a chance to hear what they’ve said and maybe reflect on it.

I try not to jump in with my ideas or be too quick to offer solutions to their problems. Once I get a picture of how things are for them, I might say something like:

  • Shall we talk about things that might be helpful?
  • Sometimes just trying to ignore the negative stuff and having a cuddle with pēpi or singing a song to them can get us through those tricky times.
  • How about we put this baby frieze up on the wall to remind everyone what’s important for baby?

Then we might talk about how play is important for baby, or that baby needs to do things over and over again to help them learn.

Teaching and how adults learn - Ako

I’ve been working with whānau for a while now, and I know there’s no ‘one right way’ to work with parents, no magic wand - but I have some tips I’m happy to share. I have a few rules for myself when I’m working with parents, based on what I’ve learnt about how adults learn. I’ll introduce the rules, then talk a little about each of them below.

  • Keep the learning parent-centred.
  • Identify each parent’s learning style and work to that.
  • Keep the session personally relevant to the them.
  • Engage them.
  • Give them feedback.
  • Explore the issues and prioritise.
  • Build on what they already know.

So firstly, the learning should be parent-centred — I remind myself to keep the parent at the centre of the conversation. This is not about me and how much I know.

I also know that adults have different learning styles, so I try to work out how each parent learns best. Some like to watch videos, some like to listen to audio clips, some only like to talk and listen, some like to be doing something while they talk, some like to look at the resources, and others like to read them.

And I know adults like to see the relevance to them of what they’re learning, so I do my best to make sure the information I’m sharing means something to them. There’s no point in going on about something that you know they won’t pick up on.

They need to be engaged in the process of exploring and discovering. So, I work out how to engage them actively — not just feed them with information. The play activities are great for this because we can do the activity and talk about what’s going on at the same time.

I also know they like to get feedback, so I tell them what I’m noticing about how they’re getting on.

Exploring the parenting problems they might be having is important, rather than them learning a whole lot of information first. So I make sure that ‘what’s on top’ for the parents is the first priority. I try to help them to see how it affects their relationships with their kids, and their kids’ behaviour.

I don’t bombard them with too much new information — it’s best if the new information can be built on something they already know. So, say we’re talking about how repetition is important for making connections in a baby’s brain, and how a baby learns first to bat at something, then grab it and then manipulate it. I’ll ask them about something they’ve learned themselves, like how to use their cell phone, search the internet or drive a car.

Do they remember when they first started and how slow it seemed, and how they had to think about each step? And then with practice it gets easier and faster. Their brain and body have fine-tuned all the steps to a smooth action. So I find out what they know already, instead of assuming what they know or don’t know already.

Ngā rauemi — Using the resources

The Parenting Resource website is mainly for family support workers. The main resources we use for parents are SKIP:

  • booklets
  • posters
  • baby wall frieze
  • apps
  • website.

There are so many individual resources to choose from within that list.

Each session note page on the website also has suggestions for where parents can learn more — like other websites, YouTube clips and links to other materials. And you can print just one session note page at a time for the family, if they aren’t that interested in reading a whole booklet.

However, I find the most useful resources are the SKIP Whakatipu booklets. They’re packed with information and written in a way that’s easy to read. The 9 booklets span from the prenatal booklet Te Kākano, through to 5 years of age. Every booklet is divided into 2 or 3 chapters, and each chapter has the same sections in the same order. So they’re pretty easy to find your way around.

The ‘Kaitiaki pēpi’ sections in the Whakatipu booklets look at tikanga Māori, and there are whakataukī and legends. There’s information on child development, brain development and parenting tips; there are activities for whānau and their pēpi to do together, plus waiata, and ideas on how the ‘Ngā tohu whānau’ relate to each stage. ‘Ngā tohu whānau’ are the 6 things children need to grow up to be happy and capable adults.

I like the way they have a Māori focus, so are a truly Kiwi resource — and I’ve found them really helpful for parents of all ethnicities. I’ve had some great conversations with Pacific and migrant families about their customs and proverbs about bringing up kids, after showing them something in a Whakatipu booklet.

Another resource I really like is the free ‘SKIP Tips’ app (external link) . I encourage whānau to download it onto their phones, or you can get it online. It’s really straightforward, and it has simple suggestions to try in response to parents’ concerns about their child’s behaviours.

One of the really good aspects is that the app asks what’s going on for the whānau too. How are they feeling — worried, depressed, wasted or hung-over, unsupported or out of their depth? That’s a great feature, because we know that kids’ behaviour can be much more annoying for the whānau when they’re not feeling so great themselves.

There are other parenting apps too that people can sign up to, where they get weekly or monthly updates about where their child’s at developmentally. The Raising Children website (external link) is a New Zeland video based parenting website which has directions for downloading their New Zealand-made app. Both the website and the app have over 100 short video clips covering a range of parenting topics that could also help to prompt discussions with the whānau.  

I like to sit alongside them with a resource — whether it’s an app, a page from a booklet or a picture from the baby frieze — and talk about it together with them. I might suggest we each read it to ourselves, or I’ll read a couple of sentences and ask them what that might mean to them at the present time. Or I’ll ask if they’ve had a similar experience or recognise that behaviour. Sometimes we just talk about the picture and see what conversations result. There are a few ideas in each of the session notes, too, of conversation starters using a resource.

And finally, a little bit of sharing about yourself is okay — but not too much. The visits should be about the children and their whānau.