Developmental Concerns – Early care and education providers are often in a position to recognize the warning signs that a child may not be developing as expected. In many cases, you have taken hours of training on typical development and worked with hundreds of children over the span of your career.
When you have concerns about a child’s development:
• Be proactive – Let parents know at enrollment that you will be tracking their child’s development and will share observations with them on a regular basis. Hold regular family teacher conferences to alleviate any negative stigma around meeting to discuss development.
• Don’t wait to have the conversation – delaying the conversation will only make it more difficult.
• Gather information – Gather resources about developmental milestones (available here) that you can share with families. Document the skills and abilities you observe and track progress on informal assessment tools. Ask parents to complete a simple developmental checklist to record what they observe at home.
• Open the conversation by comparing observations. Ask questions about any discrepancies, such as, “What kind of puzzles is he completing at home?” or “Tell me more about what you mean when you say he uses language to communicate his needs.”
• Identify strengths and areas that you plan to focus on over the next few months. This type of language is less threatening than “weaknesses” or “delays”. Remember that you are not in a position to diagnose a developmental delay – that is the job of therapists and pediatricians.
• Share the strategies and activities that you will be implementing that target the skills you want to develop. Ask parents to think about ways they can use some of the same activities at home. Explain to parents what behaviors or actions they should be looking for that are signs of growth.
• Set up time to come back together to share observations and progress. Determine at this time whether it is time to share concerns with the child’s pediatrician or to make a referral to early intervention.
• When making a referral, reassure parents that these experts have resources and strategies that will continue to support the child’s development. Validate any misgivings or feelings of uncertainty while letting them know that the earlier interventions are put in place, the better the outcomes for the child.