Sometimes in difficult conversation with families, it can be difficult to empathize and maintain what feels like a productive conversation. Using the acronym THINK, here are some tips from Megan K. Lerner, LCSW and Anthony T. Vesco, PhD for maintaining and building a productive relationship.

THINK Handout


Doing this simple task helps build meaningful and respectful relationships with families. It’s the first interaction the family may have each day and will go a long way in helping families feel welcome. Calling the parent by their name (unless otherwise specified by the parent) and their child by their own name, makes it personal. We want parents to know we are happy to see them and their child and greeting them by their first name is much nicer and more personal than just saying “hello”. If you are unsure how to pronounce their name, it’s best to politely mention you are unsure and ask them how to say it and repeat it back.  

Each day talk to the family and share something their child did that was positive. Either a new skill learned, or an interaction with another child you observed that was especially nice are examples. Try to be engaging, smile and actively listen.  Daily conversations build trust and allows for other conversations to evolve over time, allowing you to learn about the family and their child. When trust is built, families are more comfortable sharing information that may be helpful in meeting the child’s needs and in some cases the family’s needs as well.

Displays around the classroom should represent all children. They should depict varying abilities, languages, and cultures. This need to be done in a non-stereotypical way. The environment should include a combination of pictures, books, dolls, music, and household items that are familiar to children and things they would find in their own home and community. Ask families to bring in family photos of all family members, doing activities they enjoy as a family. Display and make classroom books with them.  Displays should be at both child height and parents’ height. Offering seating for adults to sit shows families that they are welcome to stay awhile, and you care about their comfort.  

When families can participate one way or another in the childcare program, they feel invested and included. Childcare programs have many different task to manage throughout the year, why not get the help of the families. Parents usually are very happy to lend a hand or offer skills or services they may have. It’s also fun to get the whole family involved. Some ways parents can volunteer might be,  a spring or fall clean up on the playground, repairing equipment, sewing things for the classroom, reading a book to the children, or doing a cooking activity with a small group of children. Remember that not all families will be able nor want to volunteer in the classroom  and we want to be respectful of this. Providing a list of things, parents can work on at home will allow these families to also feel valued and connected too. Remember part of feeling welcome is knowing you are valued no matter how or if you choose to participate. 

Create a specific area in the childcare program where parents can go to get resources pertinent to child development, parenting, health and safety, product recall information and child nutrition as well as social service supports and free events available in your area.  Providing resources that pertain to parenting and child development will let parents know that you care about their family outside the walls of the childcare. The location should stay consistent so parents will know where to find these resources and can visit without the help of staff. Providing a small lending library if you’re able, may be useful too. Keep this area uncluttered and organized so parents will want to visit and can find what they are looking for. Remove outdated information in a timely manner. 

Relationships with families are at the heart of an early childhood professional’s work. Building and sustaining these relationships benefits the children in your care as well as your business. Family engagement can look different for different programs– some programs plan events during the day or after hours for families to drop in, others integrate a more casual approach where families can spend time in the program as they’re available. Family engagement can also look more formal, with structured conferences or requesting volunteers for field trips. Welcoming families into your program is the first step to building strong relationships.


Town Square Research to Practice Statements offers information from theory and research with examples and suggestions for what it means in your work with children. This RtoP focuses on parent engagement and how to develop a healthier relationship with parents.

Reimagining Involvement: Parent Engagement

Explore ways to build relationships with families in your program in this virtual training for Family child care providers connecting policies and program philosophy to support the inclusion and engagement of all families.


Town Square Indiana modules can be found in Indiana Learning Paths. Please follow the link below to log into your I-lead account and click on “Start Your Indiana Learning Path”. Once in Indiana Learning Paths please search for:

Town Square – Setting the Stage for Engaging with Families