Supporting Preemies and Their Parents

Katee L. Spaeth discusses her perspective on Premature babies and Their Parents: Providing Information and Support to Promote Optimal Development.

Listening to Parents’ Stories Can Help Professionals Connect

It’s time for more valuable takeaways from the 2019 Minnesota Early Intervention Summer Institute! Today’s post was contributed by volunteer Katee L. Spaeth, currently a graduate student in occupational therapy at Saint Catherine’s University. Thanks to Katee for all her work and for sharing her perspective! 

Premature Babies and Their Parents: Providing Information and Support to Promote Optimal Development was presented by Jolene Pearson, Ph.D., IMH-E®. Dr. Pearson is the author of Pathways to Positive Parenting: Helping Parents Nurture Healthy Development in the Earliest Months
She began the session with a few notable developments in the history of caring for premature infants. Incubators, for example, were introduced to the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century by a German immigrant, Martin Couney. For several decades during the early 20th century, rows of incubators were displayed as an attraction in the Coney Island amusement park—babies and all!

A post card of the Coney Island amusement park where the infant incubators were displayed shows several people walking among the fairground buildings

Dr. Pearson also described her two overarching goals for the course:

Goal 1: to discuss the value of listening to parents and seeking to learn about their newborn’s story

For example, she shared tips on providing client-centered services, including what not to say to parents who have a pre-term child in the NICU.

Goal 2: to help professionals and parents hone their awareness of infants’ emotional state, read babies’ cues, and react appropriately

For example, she explained that infants primarily fluctuate between six states: crying, active alert, quiet alert, drowsy, active sleep, and deep sleep. A premature infant is feeling “just right” when in the quiet alert state. When a baby is overstimulated, we may observe cues like hiccups, yawning, looking away, back or lumbar arching, and discoloration.

Dr. Pearson reviewed techniques to comfort infants, like kangaroo care and hand cradling. Attendees used “teaching teddies” to practice modeling infant care for parents.

Three teddy bears, a newborn diaper and other materials for the session sit on a crocheted baby blanket
“Teaching teddies” are a tool professionals can use to show parents how to care for newborns

Other interactive activities included learning about new research through peer teaching. And participants co-created an online preemie care toolkit with evidence-based resources for professionals and parents. Topics covered included child development, parent support and postpartum adjustment, breastfeeding, and infant loss.

Interested in learning more about supporting families with infants and young children? The Center for Early Education and Development offers online courses in a range of related topics. Upcoming courses include Understanding Social and Emotional Development Using an Infant Mental Health Lens (enrollment is now open; the course starts September 16, 2019) and Working with Parents: Using Infant Mental Health Principles to Support Special Populations (to be offered in spring 2020).

Thanks to our presenter, participants, volunteer Katee L. Spaeth, and the Minnesota Department of Education’s Division of Early Childhood Special Education—sponsors of the Summer Institute for the past 36 years! Stay tuned for more highlights from the 2019 Summer Institute over the coming weeks.

CEED wins MN Department of Human Services contract to support Parent Aware

The Center for Early Education and Development (CEED) was awarded a two-year contract from the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) to conduct observations of child care centers and train coaches for Parent Aware.

The Center for Early Education and Development (CEED) was awarded a two-year contract from the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) to conduct observations of child care centers and train coaches for Parent Aware, Minnesota’s quality rating and improvement system for early care and education. Parent Aware is a voluntary program for child care providers in Minnesota. Participants receive a star rating (from one to four stars) as well as coaching and other benefits. The star ratings tell parents and caregivers whether the provider uses best practices to prepare children for kindergarten. 

To gather information for the providers’ star rating, highly trained observers from CEED’s Early Childhood Program Quality Center (ECPQ) visit child care providers’ classrooms. CEED also provides experienced ECPQ trainers who support Parent Aware coaches. DHS chose the ECPQ at CEED to provide all these important services.

“We have actually been doing this work with DHS for the last eight years or so, but this is the first year that there was a competitive bidding process for the contract,” explains Amy Susman-Stillman, research associate at CEED. “We work really hard to train our observers to a high level so that providers and parents know they can trust their assessments. We also work to offer relevant, effective training. Winning this contract shows that we have done a good job, and that DHS recognizes we have well-trained staff and good results.”

Tackling the Tough Stuff

This article highlights the session, Tackling the Tough Stuff: Supporting Families at Risk Through Reflection and Relationship from the 2019 Minnesota Early Intervention Summer Institute.

How providers can build reflective relationships with families

The Center for Early Education and Development hosted the 2019 Minnesota Early Intervention Summer Institute on June 25 – 26. (Repeat participants usually call it the Summer Institute for short!)

Each year, early childhood professionals from around the state gather at St John’s University in Collegeville to immerse themselves in the latest research and learn new practical strategies for working with young children and their families. Participants can choose from eight two-day tracks or “sessions,” each exploring a different topic. We’ll be sharing takeaways from each of those sessions over the coming weeks.

A group of session participants sits around a table talking about an exercise
Session participants engage in an exercise

Today we’re highlighting Tackling the Tough Stuff: Supporting Families at Risk Through Reflection and Relationship, presented by Angela M. Tomlin, PhD, HSPP, IMH-E, and Stephan Viehweg, LCSW, ACSW, IMHE (IV). Tomlin and Viehweg coauthored the book Tackling the Tough Stuff: A Home Visitor’s Guide to Supporting Families at Risk (Brookes Publishing).

Explore more professional development opportunities from the Center for Early Education and Development.

Building relationships with parents and caregivers

Supporting families is inseparable from forming relationships. Relationships are where growth and learning occurs. Parents and caregivers who feel trust and support from a provider are more likely to follow through on plans they make with the provider. They are more engaged with their children and more likely to fulfill their children’s needs. By supporting the parents, you are supporting the children.

The basics of getting off to a good start with a parent or caregiver include:

  • Show an active interest in the parent and the parent’s needs
  • Use active listening to really understand what a parent is telling you
  • Be consistent and reliable—someone a parent can count on

When we show up for parents and caregivers like this, we’re modeling an approach they can use with their child:

  • They can be interested and attentive to their baby’s needs and signals
  • They can read their baby’s signals more accurately
  • They can respond to signals in an appropriate, timely, and reliable way

Establishing a relationship with a family is, of course, easier said than done. Some families, for a variety of reasons, are hard to connect with. Yet Tomlin and Viehweg remind us that the families who are the hardest to connect with are those that need us the most.

Using the PAUSE framework

Tomlin and Viehweg created a problem-solving method they call the PAUSE framework, which can help providers build relationships with children and families during their everyday interactions.

Infographic illustrating the five steps of the PAUSE framework

The PAUSE framework allows providers and parents or caregivers to collaborate on positive ways to address challenging interactions with children—for example, when a parent is upset by a toddler’s tantrum.

  • Perceive: Explore what is happening. Watch and listen as an interaction unfolds.
  • Ask: Clarify what is happening. Ask the parent or caregiver open-ended questions.
  • Understand: Explore why it is happening. In conversation with the family members, think about possible explanations for the situation.
  • Strategize and Evaluate: Identify possible responses or solutions. What are some things the parent or caregiver could try? How and when will they know if the plan is working?

The PAUSE process is cyclical, and with each repetition a provider may deepen their relationship with a family. Not only that, but they are modeling a reflective approach to interactions that caregivers may use with children.

Presenter Stephan Viehweg and session participants smile at the camera while seated at a table
Presenter Stephan Viehweg and participants take a “pause” together

The Center for Early Education and Development offers a short online Introduction to Reflective Supervision/Consultation (enrollment is open now; the course starts September 9, 2019) as well as a range of relevant online courses for early childhood practitioners.

Thanks to the presenters, the participants, and volunteers Shonna Gnahn and Jessie Lindberg! Thanks also to the Minnesota Department of Education’s Division of Early Childhood Special Education—sponsors of the Summer Institute for the past 36 years! Stay tuned for more highlights from the 2019 Summer Institute.