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AWARE Ink Newsletter

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Promote Families’ Well-being

By Rima Zabian

“No matter how old you are, if a little kid hands you a toy phone… you answer it.”


My parents were like philosophers. There was little serious conflict in our household. The five of us were in agreement on almost every point. I cannot tell you how many times my parents coached the three of us through being teenagers. We were like Little House on the Prairie, The A-Team, even The Simpsons. Of course almost none of this is true! We did have, however, a safe house and neighborhood, enough food and money to meet basic needs (and more), and lots of education. Not The Cosby Show but we had some pretty positive ratings.


Most families today, however, face a very different situation and they need programs like Head Start and Early Head Start to promote their well-being. Early Head Start has identified what matters for this goal in the context of programs: improving safety and stability, personal safety, health, and financial security. But what can you do as an individual mental health professional?


Yes/No Boundaries


We model well-being when we take care of ourselves. Our last newsletter tackled burnout and resilience. If you are exhausted, your quality of care is going to decline. Surprisingly, taking care of yourself is fairly similar to improving the well-being of a family: you live in a physically and mentally healthy way, you have a stable and safe home, you find meaningful daily activities, you cultivate supporting friendships, hope and gratitude.


A crucial component of self-care which is relevant to mental health professionals is establishing firm boundaries. Yes or No. There is a good TedTalk by Sarri Gilman about this approach: “Yes and No are our compass, the guidance system we use to make every single decision.” You need to get better at saying, No, if that helps you to take care of yourself. Also, get better at adult coloring books, being outside, playing an instrument, talking to co-workers in a real way, etc. Lighten up and laugh. And say, No.


The Importance of Teamwork


You are on a team with a common goal. You help families become healthy, safe and financially secure. You do not do this alone. Be open to improving your knowledge, skills, attitudes and ability to collaborate. (This process never ends!) Your teamwork directly impacts your quality and safety of care. Besides, teamwork makes you more creative, happier, more productive, more knowledgeable, and better at work relationships.


Connecting with local communities is also fundamental. Try out a local early childhood council and join professional networks to increase your understanding and to discover new resources. My childhood neighbors would have asked for any resources that tackled ways to keep me from an accidental death. Jumping across a busy street like a frog, lighting cleaning products on fire, swimming in a pool with heavy weights to make my arms bigger, flipping my bike over cars—I’m blessed to be writing this newsletter!


Individual Strategies


The most important resource for promoting well-being is families. To develop a plan to support a family’s safety, financial stability, health and wellness requires knowing what their strengths and challenges are. We cannot share resources and materials without first knowing more about those same families. Take a look at community assessments, PIR data, Family Partnership Process, Policy Council parent committees, etc. Any staff outside of Early Head Start who work with these families will know where the gaps in services are. Learn more about how to help families that are experiencing abuse from your local child welfare agency.


Find out about nutrition assistance programs, including SNAP, WIC, and food banks. You know where there are healthy food options at reasonable prices. You can encourage healthy eating behaviors with children and families. (Just don’t be that person who brings desserts to work.) Research about community health fairs and health services. If families are anxious about taxes, share what you know about tax credits. Not every family has the same educational goals. Be sure to respect whatever a family wants. You can refer them to local GED programs, DLL classes, job training, or higher education.


Stick with the Challenges


Communication and resilience. Doesn’t almost everything come down to these two principles in our work with families? Forgetting promises, ditching appointments, silence, asking personal favors, coldness, etc. are some of the issues that we can face. And many of the families’ stories themselves… To all these challenges say, Yes. We say Yes to families who want access to our services. We focus on their strengths and not their problems because this is the best way to promote their well-being.


“Don’t limit your challenges, challenge your limits.” I recently came across this quote at random. It is the kind of quote that would have made me swim in the pool with even heavier weights as a child. (You see how important you and the work you do are, don’t you?!) Much of what we do has expectations of outcomes. Ask yourself what is and isn’t within your control. Whoever said that limits are self-imposed was bananas. You can’t make change. But you can avoid becoming defensive, comfortable or stuck with one way of doing things. Our families depend upon it.


And say, Yes. And stick.

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