Family Matters: Start-up guide for parents

Sometimes even the most confident parents need armbands in the deep waters of parenting. Family Matters visits a unique Sheffield project

Thursday, 22nd September 2011, 10:53 am

Babies aren’t born clutching a guide on how to cope with parenting but luckily help is available for every Sheffield family no matter what their situation.

As anyone with young children will tell you, the first steps on the long parenting road are really hard.

You suddenly become a parent, chef, cleaner, dresser, bather, educator, safety monitor and teacher all in one.

It feels like everyone in the world is an expert and wants to give you tips on how you’re doing it all wrong - but there’s nobody there in the middle of the night when your baby just won’t go to sleep.

Most of us manage to make it through, somehow, one day at a time.

But some Sheffield mums don’t have close family and friends to rely on for those much-needed words of encouragement and there are more of them than you might think.

Feeling lonely and isolated is by far the greatest need for families referred to support charity Home-Start. There are times when we all need a friendly face and shoulder to cry on as well as somebody to share a cup of tea, chat and talk about the best sides of being a parent.

One service Home-Start offers is a programme called Parents as First Teachers, built around monthly or fortnightly home-visits as well. There are also regular events at venues across the city.The idea is to give parents the confidence and skills they need to be their child’s first teacher.

It is about having fun together, making the most of children’s natural curiosity and creating games using objects all families have in the house.

Manager Karen Ritchie believes that with the communication and behavioural skills of five year olds at an all time low, it is vital all parents feel they have somewhere to turn for help.

One of the scheme’s big successes is being able to visit families in their own homes so mums feel safe and comfortable enough to talk about what is really troubling them.

Karen said: “I agree that parenting is something that’s learnt like anything else and that parents shouldn’t feel embarrassed about asking for help. Parents as First Teachers encourages parents to learn about their child’s development and introduces activities to parents that can easily be part of their daily lives, using materials that are around the house.

“Each activity is designed to encourage their child’s language, motor, social-emotional and intellectual development.

“Parents are encouraged to observe their child’s development against milestones, giving opportunities for the earlier detection of development delay.

“Children need most of all to spend time with people who they feel safe and familiar with, so we encourage parents to connect with and interact with their child by encouraging them to sit and play with them on the floor.

“We are one of only a few organisations in the north that offer this unique home-visiting parenting programme and feel that more organisations should be made aware of it and more parents should have access to it.”

Staff on the Parents as First Teachers team pride themselves on its success in accessing and building relationships with some of the city’s hardest to reach families.

Amid chaotic lifestyles they encourage language, emotional and social skills to equip the children for school or nursery.

Co-ordinator Karen Minors said it is aimed at children under three and the scheme has to be fun to be a success.

The Parents As First Teachers programme offers support on learning, growth and development in children from 0-3 years. She said: “I visit each family at home, every month, with an age-appropriate activity, information relevant to their child’s age, and a chance to discuss anything they need help with such as behaviour, boundaries, sleeping, eating or play.

“The idea is that the bond between parent and child is strengthened, and parents enjoy spending time with their children. It is a very non-threatening approach, and lots of fun.

“Any family with a child under three can be referred - it isn’t aimed just at families who are seen to be struggling.

The group also offers workshops to groups of parents and tots at toddler groups, children’s centre, libraries, fun days and nursery events.

One mum described Home-Start volunteers as “armbands in deep water” because they offer a lifeline to families feeling overwhelmed.

The team works with families across Sheffield tackling everything from early attachment and child development to postnatal depression.

A growing team of volunteers visit families with young children to share tips from their own parenting experience and offer support.

The aim is to give children the best start in life at the same time as helping the parents.

Find out more about Home-Start Sheffield at or call 0114 2788377. It has 153 volunteers available for home-visiting in Sheffield.