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Connecting and Building Relationships with Parents for Better Outcomes in the Children You Work With - featured July 30, 2010

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Connecting and Building Relationships with Parents for Better Outcomes in the Children You Work With

Reprinted with the express permission of Joan Celebi of Special Needs Parent Coach.

By: Joan Celebi, Ed.M., CLC

It's well known that when professionals who work with children build strong relationships with parents, better outcomes are often the result. But how do you go about connecting with parents to forge meaningful, long-lasting partnerships? It's not always obvious or intuitive, even to the best or most experienced professionals.

I've been on both sides – both professional and parent. In my days as a high school teacher, invariably my students improved in all kinds of ways when I took the initiative to reach out to their parents. Now, as a mother of a child with special needs, I see the wisdom, and the results, of professionals and practitioners who consider their relationship with parents to be just as important as their relationship with the children who are their patients, students, group members, etc.

Part of what I do here at is help professionals who work with children to refine and enhance their parent-professional relationship building skills. Here are some tips and strategies you may find helpful:

  1. Great communication is key.
    How and when can parents reach you if they have questions? Interestingly, the more available you make yourself for questions and discussion, the more comfortable and confident parents will feel about you and your services.
  2. Offer ways for parents to help out.
    Parents are often very grateful to you for the work you're doing with their sons and daughters. If there are some simple ways they can be of help in your organization, practice, or agency, invite them to become involved.
  3. Invite parents into the classroom.
    If you work in a classroom setting, make parents feel welcome to visit. This may be an open invitation, or a list of dates and times parents can choose from. Parents love to visit and see their children in action!
  4. Invite parents into therapy sessions whenever possible.
    What they learn from observing you will make it easier for them to follow through at home.
  5. Be open to parent research and ideas.
    Parents of children with special needs and special health care needs often do their own research and talk with other parents. They may bring you a copy of a study they found interesting, or they may ask whether a certain type of therapy, treatment, or classroom intervention might be appropriate for their child.
  6. Give parents copies of relevant articles, and recommend books you think they should read.
    Even if they don't read these right away, parents appreciate not only the information you're giving them, but also the fact that you value their intellectual side.
  7. Don't be afraid to say "I don't know."
    As a professional, parents often see you as the expert. Constantly trying to live up to that expectation can be stressful and draining! If a parent asks a question and you aren't sure of the answer, it's okay to say you'll look into it or do some research and then get back to them. Parents will appreciate your thoroughness.
  8. Acknowledge parents' fears, worries, and hesitations.
    Parents of children with special needs often have been through a lot with their children, and may be reluctant to try things that are new or different. Transitions are often difficult as well. You can help them along their learning curve by validating their feelings.
  9. Speak and write about the good stuff, too.
    In your conversations with parents, and in your progress notes, always mention the positives. Tell of the child's strengths, of some nice moments … find SOMETHING positive to say, even if on some days it's a stretch!
    Parents of children with special needs are so used to hearing about what's wrong with their child – they'll be grateful for your insights into their child's good points, too!
  10. Be a resource.
    Especially for parents who have just received their child's diagnosis, if you can recommend some local resources for them – such as a support group, organization, or agency, you will be doing those parents a HUGE favor. Often, these parents are too overwhelmed to find these resources on their own.
  11. Ask parents whether they've run into any obstacles to implementing your recommendations at home. If they have, brainstorm with them some possible solutions. Based on your own past experience, as well as experiences of other families you've worked with, you may often know of some simple solutions that might not occur to parents. And any time you can help parents find ways to follow through on your recommendations, the result is more successful outcomes for the children you work with.

Featured Author: Joan Celebi :

We thank Joan Celebi for allowing us to reprint her article. Please support our contributing authors and visit

Joan Celebi is the founder of, and the author of Overwhelmed No More! The Complete System For Balanced Living for Parents of Children with Special Needs. To sign up for Joan’s free Overwhelmed No More! Newsletter and Free Lunchtime Teleseminars, filled with practical tips and inspiring ideas for successfully navigating life as a parent of a child with special needs, visit

Tags: Special Education SLP PT OT School Based Psychology Parental Involvement Article Newsletter 30 July 2010. PI Psychology