How to help parents find the right parenting support for them
Vince Lagioia, Australia, March 2021
This guide is designed to assist practitioners in having conversations with parents regarding the sources of their parenting information and support. It aims to help you and the parent identify what type of support the parent is seeking (their motivation) and the most appropriate sources for this support. Ultimately, it will help you build a parent’s capacity to access the best quality information or support to suit their needs.
What is this resource about?
The guide covers conversations with parents that support them to make good decisions on a day-to-day basis when they self-identify a need for parenting information or support. At other times, you may wish to provide specific guidance about sources of information related to issues identified within a consultation. Sharing information with parents about children’s social and emotional wellbeing: A step-by-step approach presents nine key steps that any practitioner can follow to ensure the information they provide to parents is high-quality, useful and relevant to the family’s circumstances.
Help and support seeking
Parents seek information, help and support for many different reasons. Similarly, they often have to, or choose to go to different places to source that information, help and support.
Types of support
To find the best or most appropriate support for a parent, it is helpful to first identify the type of support that is needed. What, specifically, is the support for?
Consider each of these situations:
- Informational support: Is the parent seeking information about a specific topic?
‘My son is going to childcare next year and I want to make sure he is toilet trained before he goes, but I don’t know much about it. Where can I find some good information about toilet training?’
- Practical support: Is the parent seeking a solution to a specific problem?
‘My usually happy 11-year-old daughter came home from school last week upset and angry. Since then she has locked herself in her room for hours and won’t tell us anything or speak with anyone. I just don’t know what to do.’
- Emotional support: Does the parent just want to share their problem and hear from others who are experiencing the same thing or something similar?
‘My kids just won’t leave me alone, even for a few minutes. They’re always coming to me to do something with or for them or to referee a fight or argument they’re having. They rely on me for everything!’
More information about these different types of support is provided in the next pages.
Informational support is useful when someone wants help to answer a question or wants to be more informed about a topic or issue. The information they seek can help them decide on a course of action – or whether to take any action at all. This sort of support can also be used to help a parent normalise a current circumstance or experience.
Informational support is often sought proactively. The parent is interested in learning more about something, usually before it becomes a problem that they need to address. For instance, in the toileting example above, the parent may simply be asking what is developmentally common – should my three-year-old be toilet trained, and does he need to be toilet trained before he goes to childcare?
Depending on the information the parent accesses in response to the issue, they may choose to do something about it (e.g. begin making an effort at toilet training), or they may decide that it isn’t really an issue at this stage (e.g. do nothing). In this example, if the parent decides they’d like to do something so they don’t have to worry about supplying extra nappies and changes of clothing to the childcare provider, then they may need a different type of support – practical support.
Practical support refers to the help someone seeks to resolve a problem. Unlike informational support, practical support is more reactive; the parent is responding to something.
This type of support usually involves determining a plan of action to try and do something about the challenge the parent describes. Take the earlier example of the parent expressing concern about their daughter’s sadness and isolation. In this instance, the parent is looking for an appropriate way to manage this situation. This may include:
- strategies and ideas for opening up the lines of communication between the parent and child
- using open questions to find out what happened to make the child upset, and whether any further action needs to be taken; or
- teaching the child how to develop and use appropriate coping strategies.
Of course, some parents may have the skills and knowledge to manage the situation, but still find it challenging and want to tell someone about how it makes them feel. At this point, a parent may be seeking emotional support.
This type of support usually involves the parent seeking the opportunity to share and talk about their concerns. Their aim at this point may not be to do anything about the issue, but simply to ‘offload’ or ‘debrief’. This type of support often works to help people feel that they are not alone – that there are others who are experiencing the same thing or are sympathetic to the parent’s situation and experiences.
These types of support are not always distinct or exclusive. You may find parents want more than one type of support for the same issue, or they may work through all three types of support when experiencing an issue.
For example, while the parent who finds that they have little time to themselves may initially be seeking emotional support by expressing frustration with the situation to others, they may also find this is a common situation that many parents of young children find themselves in (informational support) and that there are a range of evidence-based strategies that can be applied to help them to manage the situation (practical support).
Sources of support
The best resource for one type of support may not always be suited to another type. The friend or peer who can provide a parent with the best emotional support may not have the resources or knowledge to provide the most effective informational or practical support. Similarly, the best source of evidence-based parenting strategies (practical support), may not be able to provide the emotional support that a parent needs or wants.
Accordingly, parents can and do go to many different people and places to get information to help them support their children’s development and social and emotional wellbeing. These can range from family and friends to less ‘personal’ sources, such as their child and family health nurse, general practitioner, early childhood educator or school teacher. They may also gather information via other sources such as social media, magazines, books, and websites.
Sources of support can be classified as personal vs professional and direct vs indirect:
It is important to note that all of these sources of information are valuable and can prove helpful in different ways. The key is knowing what each source is best at. This will make it easier for parents to find the right information to help them meet their specific need more quickly.
High-quality parenting information
Of course, these categories and the quality of information you get from each group can still vary substantially. For instance, not all family and friends are good listeners, but they may also provide information on strategies that have worked well for them. Similarly, not all parenting books and websites provide high-quality evidence-based information. Encouraging parents to apply a critical lens to practical information they receive, and to verify parenting advice against well-known sources, are important ways to increase their capacity to access high-quality information.
This is where the information in Sharing information with parents about children’s social and emotional wellbeing: A step-by-step approach can be helpful. For example, you can enhance parents’ uptake of, confidence in and use of high-quality parenting information by:
- being familiar with a range of quality, up-to-date
sources of information on various topics or issues
you can direct parents to
- taking steps to ensure information and resources
provided are relevant and appropriate to the family’s
needs and circumstances; and
- arming them with questions to ask of the information
they access, such as:
- What are the qualifications and expertise of the
person who wrote this?
- Is the information current and balanced?
- Is it realistic and doable?
- What are the qualifications and expertise of the
So, to help parents decide where is the best place to go for help (family, friend, peer, or expert), it can helpful to know why they’re looking (they’ve got a problem they want fixed, or they just want to debrief and share their experience) and what they are looking for (information, a solution or advice, or a sympathetic ear).