BROOKVILLE – The Indiana Youth Institute presented a Youth Worker Cafe professional development event Oct. 3 at the Brookville United Methodist Church. Lenore Friedly, Family Engagement Partnerships, Indianapolis, family engagement consultant, presented "Parent and Family Engagement: Engagement Starts With You."
Friedly said, "I've worked with young children and youth my whole adult life .... I also worked in a group home for teen moms. That was an amazing experience, but very difficult emotionally.
"I've learned that everyone matters. Some of us were lucky to have a somewhat nurturing environment growing up .... but some families don't learn how to parent. We need to support them and find where their strengths are and help them build that up."
She asked attendees, "What are your hopes and dreams for children/youth?"
- "To become a productive adult."
- "Have at least one supportive adult in their life so they can have confidence in themselves."
- "A simpler life for these kids .... There's so much pressure on these kids to decide what they want to be."
The speaker stressed the importance of "getting to know the families you're working with and thinking about whether you are just feeding information to families or are you listening to what they are saying?"
"When I talk to people, they want the quick fix, but there isn't a quick fix. It's a risk. You took a risk to be involved, and you risked sharing something of yourself. Even listening is a risk .... You want to help so badly, but you have to listen and build that relationship."
Why is family engagement important?
The consultant emphasized, "Children do better across their lifespan if their families are engaged. Whatever strength or support you can give to a family can help them move forward as they advocate for their children."
"You never know how many years later this support may be helpful to those families."
"When I was working with teenage moms, I had to come to the realization these gals didn't know how to play with their children. They didn't know how to interact with their kids because they had never seen someone doing that. I told them, 'You're going to have to get down on the floor and grass and get dirty.'
"There was a gal who said, 'You don't know my life,' and she never seemed to listen to what I was saying .... At the end of my time there, the girls gave me a card that they had all signed. That gal who I thought wasn't listening wrote, 'I hope I can do what you do someday.' When I read that, I realized she saw what I was trying to do to help her."
Friedly emphasized, "This day-to-day grind is hard work .... You have to be authentic because children can read through phony in 30 seconds and so can families.
"We have to look past the barriers families put up. That's why I keep trying. The ones who give me the most trouble are the ones I go after. I know that in there somewhere they love their children, but they don't know how to express that love."
She revealed a simple trick of how to start getting families engaged: "When you come home, you take 10 minutes and this is our together time. The kids get to choose what they're going to do, but it's electronics free. You can play a game, go for a walk ... but you have to interact with each other and talk."
Providing opportunities for families to be engaged "doesn't have to be elaborate. It could be having a family game night each week. "
One important aspect to remember is to let families know why an activity is important and how it is linked to learning. For example, "young children need to work on their fine motor skills so as they get older, they will be able to write. Something they can do at home to work on those skills is to pull a pipe cleaner through a colander.
"You need to tell them why this is important to practice doing this .... A lot of times we just shove this at them, and they don't know why it's important."