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Early childhood services provide a great opportunity for families to connect with each other. Families who have positive relationships with other families generally have lower stress levels, better relationships with their children and are more willing to access support networks in their community. Support networks are groups of people that provide emotional and practical help to each other at good times and in times of need. For example, families within a social network may host social gatherings and celebrate special occasions together, or they may provide support at home when families are under stress. This support is important for families; it is known to enhance their ability to manage the ups and downs of life and help them feel part of a community. Since many children attend early childhood services, they are an ideal place for families to meet, form friendships and become part of a support network.
Marie and Susan’s story
Marie and Susan met when their three-year-old sons began attending the same early childhood centre. Through chats at pick-up and drop-off time and events held at the early childhood service, they developed a strong friendship. Their husbands became friendly too and the families often got together to celebrate special occasions. The boys are now four and have joined playgroup together, they love playing at each other’s houses. This is a great chance for Marie and Susan to catch up and have a coffee. In fact, Marie had been chatting to Susan lately about making the coffee and play date a fortnightly afternoon and thought she would invite some of the other parents from the early childhood service to join them.
Having a strong social support network benefits mental health and wellbeing.
Early childhood services are often place where families can make friendships which last a lifetime.
What early childhood services might also be doing:
- Actively encouraging families to become involved in the service, for example inviting them into the service to give updates on what is happening, chatting to them informally and formally about their child, or inviting them to spend time in the centre with their child/ren.
- Discussing what type of social events are suitable for their families.
- Asking families’ permission to include them on a contact list and sending daily or weekly updates about what is happening at the service.
- Organising social activities that allow families a chance to meet and share their experiences and develop friendships.
What parents and carers can do
- Become involved in the service; if you are available, engage in casual conversations with other families at drop-off and/or pick-up times.
- Access local clubs (e.g., sporting clubs, walking groups, social clubs), parent groups (e.g., possibly run through the local council) or cultural associations to get to know other families. The early childhood service may be able to provide you with information on these.
- Offer to be a buddy when new families join the service; ask how they’re going, whether there are any concerns or issues, you could even invite them to neighbourhood social functions such as local fundraisers or movie nights. Introducing families to other people in the community and expanding their social network will help them become part of the community.
Articles on a range of issues relevant to making connections with other families are available at: http://raisingchildren.net.au – see ‘Grown-Ups’ tab.