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Developmental Parenting

Developmental Parenting

A Guide for Early Childhood Practitioners
Authors: Lori A. Roggman Ph.D., Lisa K. Boyce Ph.D., Mark S. Innocenti Ph.D.

ISBN: 978-1-55766-976-6
Pages: 248
Copyright: 2008
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Size:  6.0 x 9.0
Stock Number:  69766
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When parents are warm, responsive, encouraging, and communicative—the key elements of developmental parenting—they lay the foundation for young children's school readiness, social competence, and mental health. That's why every early childhood professional needs this comprehensive, practical guide to building a developmental parenting program for the families they serve.

Unlike other approaches that limit parents to a "student" role, the proven, the parenting-focused model in this book shows home visitors how to put parents and other caregivers confidently in charge of guiding and supporting their young children's development. Home visitors and other early childhood professionals will learn the ABCs of facilitating developmental parenting:

  • Attitudes. Be responsive, supportive, flexible, and culturally sensitive while looking for the family's strengths and building on them.
  • Behaviors. Actively encourage positive parent–child interaction, support developmental parenting behaviors, establish a collaborative partnership with parents, use family activities as learning opportunities, and involve other family members.
  • Content. Provide parents with clear and relevant information on child development, determine the best curricula for selecting and adapting parent–child activities, and learn to use assessments skillfully to evaluate child progress and parenting behaviors.

This how-to guidebook includes all the support early childhood professionals need to facilitate developmental parenting effectively. Program directors will get step-by-step guidance on supervising and evaluating the program, and professionals who work directly with parents will get easy-to-implement strategies, case studies of successful interactions, and tips and advice from other practitioners.

With this research-based and reader-friendly book, early childhood professionals will learn to put parents in charge of guiding their child's development—resulting in strong parent-child bonds, healthy families, and improved school readiness.

**Includes the Home Visit Rating Scales (HOVRS), an observation tool with seven rating scales for practitioners and supervisors to assess the quality of home visits from direct observation.

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Review: Young Children

"The authors support their parenting model with research ... this exceptional book could also have application as a college text."

Review by: Jon Korfmacher, Erikson Institute
Wise and practical . . . More than a 'how to' guide, it's a 'how come' guide, providing a compelling empirical and theoretical background to developmental parenting.
Review by: Merle Greene, Early Childhood Education Director, Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY USA), Educational Consultant
A comprehensive approach to developmental parenting for infants and toddlers.
Review by: Carla Peterson, Professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Iowa State University

"Offers exactly the kind of guidance and information that interventionists need to turn good intentions and theoretical ideas into practical activities and supports for families."

Review by: Kathy Thornburg, Center for Family Policy & Research, University of Missouri
A must read for professionals who support families! The ideas in this book can help practitioners help parents provide the developmental support children need in their early years.
About the Authors
Foreword Helen H. Raikes

  1. What Is Developmental Parenting?
  2. Building a Facilitative Developmental Parenting Program
  3. A Is for Approach and Attitudes
  4. B is for Behavior
  5. C is for Content
  6. Putting It into Practice
  7. Curricula and Activity Resources
  8. Assessment and Outcome Measures
  9. Theories of Change for a Developmental Parenting Program
  10. Managing and Supervising a Developmental Parenting Program
  11. Evaluating and Improving a Developmental Parenting Program
  12. Voices of Experience
  13. Memories of Lessons Learned


    Appendix A: Parent Satisfaction with the Home Visitor and Home Visits: A Survey for Parents
    Appendix B: Home Visit Rating Scales (HOVRS): An Observation Tool for Practitioners and Supervisors

Excerpted from Chapter 2 of Developmental Parenting: A Guide for Early Childhood Practioners, by Lori A. Roggman, Ph.D., Lisa K. Boyce, Ph.D., & Mark S. Innocenti, Ph.D.

Copyright © 2008 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

What kind of program best facilitates developmental parenting? A developmental parenting program could be set up in several different kinds of ways. Parents could meet with practitioners in their own homes, at a child care center, in a community center, at a school, or in an office building. In many of these settings, parents could meet with practitioners either individually or in groups. Although any of these possibilities could work, we recommend a program in which practitioners meet individually with families in their own homes.


In–home developmental parenting programs help parents support their children's early development at home and around their community during their everyday lives. Home is where young children, even those in regular child care, spend most of their time with their parents. Parents are usually the most long–term caregivers and teachers that children will ever have. Parents have an enduring relationship with their children, so a program that increases parents' support of their children's development can have a lifelong impact. Also, all families who would benefit from a parenting program, even those with limited transportation, can participate in a developmental parenting program at home.

Regular activities and routines in the home offer easy and, therefore, efficient situations for parents to promote their children's early development and continued learning.Because home–visiting services are delivered to families in their homes, often in kitchens or living rooms, they offer opportunities to support good parenting practices that are already happening and improve the home environment for learning and development. By working with parents in their own homes, practitioners who are knowledgeable about child development and parenting can help parents find ways to use their family's home activities and routines to promote their children's development. By working with one family at a time, practitioners can identify unique opportunities to individualize their program to meet the specific needs and build on the strengths of each child and each family. By working individually with parents and children in their homes, practitioners can tailor the program to parents with children of any age or to families with diverse needs.

Home means more than only a family's living space where they sleep, however. Home also means neighborhoods and communities—wherever parents and children spend time together. Parents spend time with their children in a variety of places—hanging out at home, shopping at the grocery store, going to the park, doing errands at the bank or post office, washing clothes at a laundromat, or going other places. Those are the times and places when parents and children can be building their relationship, exploring the world together, and communicating with each other—sharing the experiences that support early development. By working with parents in the places where they spend time with their children, programs can increase developmental parenting in families' everyday lives.

A disadvantage of in–home services is that families can remain isolated if they do not go to a center where they can interact with other parents and children. Practitioners can feel isolated, too. Providing inhome services can be stressful for practitioners who may work on their own for days at a time visiting individual family homes, often in stressful or chaotic circumstances. It is challenging for supervisors to have practitioners working out in the community away from a central location because they often have infrequent opportunities for supervision and support. The biggest disadvantage of in–home services is that the home visiting approach for delivering services has been questioned in the research literature. Several studies have questioned the efficacy of home visiting to make lasting changes in children's lives.

Research on Home Visiting

Some studies comparing home visiting with other service–delivery strategies or with no service delivery have shown only weak or no effects of home visiting on children's early development. In a 1999 issue of The Future of Children, Deanna Gomby summarized the methods used in several studies questioning the effectiveness of home visiting programs. The primary limitation of these studies is that few of them tested any variations of home visiting within the programs. Therefore, little was learned about how home visiting quality affects the outcomes of programs that use home visiting as their service delivery strategy.

A 2004 meta–analysis, or study of studies, of home visiting by Monica Sweet and Mark Applebaum was more positive about the outcomes of home visiting, reporting overall impacts on children's social and cognitive development and on parents' behaviors and attitudes. Other research shows the importance of variations in the quality of home visits and the responses of families to home visiting. For example, our study of home visiting, published in 2001, investigated variations in the quality of interactions during home visits in an infant– toddler program that aimed to promote positive parent—child interaction. What we learned was that when home visitors were observed effectively engaging parents and involving parents and children together, the families were rated as improving the most. This means that getting parents involved in the home visit and getting them interacting positively with their children at home are important elements for an effective home–visiting program. These strategies were part of that program's overall design and integrated into the specific approaches used by participating home visitors. The effectiveness of these strategies for any particular developmental parenting program depends on how the program is planned, what the practitioners do with each family, and how well the practitioners are trained and supervised.

For many programs, the advantages of home visiting outweigh the disadvantages. It is the quality of the home visiting that becomes critical for the success of the program. What makes high–quality home visiting? High–quality home visiting is described here as facilitative because it facilitates, or paves the way, for positive parent—child interaction and parenting behaviors that support children's early development.

What Is Facilitative Home Visiting?

Facilitative home visiting refers to an individualized approach to service delivery in families' homes that effectively promotes early development by facilitating parents in supporting their own children's development. When practitioners provide guidance, information, and encouragement to parents, it facilitates (or "makes easier") the parents' job of supporting their children's early development. Practitioners effectively facilitate developmental parenting when they help parents focus on parenting, observe their children's behavior, and support their children's development as part of their everyday lives. In turn, good supervision and management help practitioners use effective strategies and resources. Based on information from research, experience, and many conversations with home visitors and their supervisors, we have learned that to do all this effectively, developmental parenting programs require

  1. Thoughtful planning
  2. Good practices with good tools
  3. Ongoing program improvement

Thoughtful Planning

Thoughtful planning first requires being clear about what a program is trying to do. A developmental parenting program is most likely to be successful when everyone in the program is clear about the program's goals and how the program's strategies will enable the program to reach those goals. In other words, both the staff members who work directly with families and other program staff members need to know their program's theory of change.

Theory of Change

What is a theory of change? It is a series of clear statements or a diagrammed model of what changes the program is trying to make happen, what the program is doing to make those changes, how the changes happen, and what additional factors can help or hinder change. For a developmental parenting program to be successful, the people working there must be clear in their minds about how home visiting fits in with their program's theory of change.

Why does a practitioner in a developmental parenting program need to know about the program's theory of change? Programs expect practitioners to do things based on philosophies or theories about how to make changes in the lives of families and children, whether a theory of change is clearly articulated or not. If practitioners are going to do a good job or even just do what they are supposed to do, they need to understand the strategies and expected outcomes of their program's theory of change.

To be successful, a program's theory of change describes the expected outcomes and the strategies planned for making those outcomes happen. A good theory of change also specifies how the process should occur and why it is effective or what the pathways are for change. In addition, a good theory says what other factors influence the success of the program for each family, or what works best for whom. In other words, the theory describes the pathways from strategies to outcomes— from what practitioners do to how parents and children change. It should be clear from a program's theory of change why practitioners make home visits and what they are expected to do to make changes happen for parents and children.

We developed a theory of change for developmental parenting programs. This is the theory of change used for this book. Having a clear theory of change benefits a developmental parenting program in several ways. First, it makes practitioners who work directly with families more aware of the purpose and reasons for a program's strategies, including home visiting. Second, it helps practitioners plan activities and select materials that are consistent with the strategies and processes described in the theory of change. Third and finally, when something unexpected happens, a theory of change offers a guide to practitioners for problem solving "on their feet" when they are out making a home visit often miles away from supervisors or other program support staff.

A program's theory of change may incorporate home visiting for several reasons. One program may believe that home visits are appropriate because they make it easier to individualize services to families with children at particular points in development or in particular family situations. Another program may believe home visits are appropriate because effective changes in a parent's behavior toward one child can benefit other children in the family and persist through later years after the end of the intervention program. Whatever a program's reasons are for selecting home visiting as a primary service delivery strategy, practitioners who make home visits are better able to deliver services successfully when they understand their program's theory of change. If program staff members are aware of the goals of the program and the strategies planned for reaching those goals, they will be better prepared to implement the strategies successfully.

Although a program's theory of change often develops out of practitioners' direct experience and intuition, it may also be grounded in more formal human development theories. For example, Urie Bronfenbrenner's ecological model of human development, described in articles published in 1978 and 1986, has influenced many early intervention programs since it was first developed. Bronfenbrenner's model puts a child and family at the center of a set of concentric circles that represent the increasingly wider worlds of the child's life: neighborhood, community, and society. This model suggests that early development occurs in the context of relationships children have with their parents and other caregivers and that these relationships interact with the larger contexts of neighborhood, community, and society. One of these contexts could be a developmental parenting program.

Bronfenbrenner's model points to the importance of relationships between parents and children, between practitioners and parents, between homes and program, and between program and community. Building relationships with families is essential for effective home visiting. Thoughtful planning, therefore, includes consideration of the role of relationships in a facilitative developmental parenting program.

Mutual Competence

Relationship building is essential for facilitative home visiting. An approach of mutual competence fosters relationships between parents and children and between parents and practitioners. This approach was developed by Victor Bernstein at the University of Chicago and was described in articles by him and his colleagues in 1991 and 2001. A mutual competence approach is based on recognition and support of each other's strengths and each other's competence. Parents recognize and support their children's emerging strengths and skills, and practitioners recognize and support parents' strengths and values.

A mutual-competence approach to working with families makes the social–emotional health of the parent—child relationship the first priority for practitioners. Practitioners using a mutual competence approach focus on increasing positive parent—child interactions in which both parent and child learn together and feel secure, valued, successful, happy, and understood. The approach acknowledges the importance of everyday family activities for learning and builds on strengths in the parent—child relationship. Facilitative practitioners take a mutual competence approach by

  1. Supporting strong relationships between parents and children
  2. Building collaborative partnerships with parents
  3. Encouraging parents to use daily activities and routines to promote development
  4. Increasing parent's self–confidence in building strong relationships with their children
  5. Observing with parents what is going well in the parent—child relationship
  6. Enhancing parent awareness of the impact of stress and negative events and thereby preparing the parent—child relationship to endure in times of stress

A mutual-competence approach is appropriate for home visitors to use when covering a wide variety of areas and activities with parents and children. For example, practitioners could emphasize nutrition, language development, or any other area of health and development within a mutually competent framework. However, the focus always remains on the importance of parent—child interaction and building on the strengths of the parent—child relationship.

Cultural respect is part of all of the strategies, processes, practices, and tools of a program using a mutual competence approach. Parents' values and beliefs are respected and supported in the context of their culture and community. Using a mutual competence approach is not a passive process, however, in which the practitioner merely does whatever a parent wants. Practitioners bring their own strengths, expertise, and resources to contribute to the process.

Whether a family receives only two visits or more than 150 visits, practitioner—family relationships remain central to how effectively the program facilitates developmental parenting. When practitioners know the theory of change for their program and use a mutual competence approach to build relationships with families, they are able to effectively use the strategies and resources that make up good practices for home visiting.

Good Practices with Good Tools

Effective practices are often called best practices, but because even the very "best" practices may not work for everyone, a set of "good" practices is needed that can be adapted to individual families, situations, and home visitors. Good practices for a developmental parenting program are consistent with the program's theory of change and are faithful to a mutual-competence approach to relationship building with families. From both research and practical experience, the following are characteristics of good practice in facilitative home visiting:

  1. Responsiveness to individual families
  2. Flexibility to meet when and where families are comfortable
  3. Emphasis on parent—child interaction and developmental parenting
  4. Collaborative partnerships between practitioners and parent(s)
  5. Involvement of additional family members, especially fathers and siblings
  6. Encouragement of everyday family activities as learning opportunities
  7. Information provided to parents as needed and wanted, to support developmental parenting
  8. Guidance for parents to plan activities to promote their children's early development
  9. Family friendly assessments and curriculum materials

These characteristics of facilitative practices will be described in more detail in later chapters. Incorporating these characteristics takes planning, time, and practice. What really helps practitioners, though, is supportive supervision. And what really helps a program is regular feedback.

Good practitioners need supportive supervision. Practitioners who provide in–home services typically work alone and travel from home to home, sometimes driving their own cars in rural areas or using complex public transportation systems in urban areas, and they must carry with them whatever materials they need. They typically serve diverse families and often need additional guidance from supervisors to identify strategies to effectively support developmental parenting for each family. Supportive supervision, like other aspects of a facilitative program, uses a mutual competence framework in which both supervisors and practitioners recognize and support each other's strengths and competence. Effective working partnerships between practitioners and their supervisors parallel the mutual competence partnerships that work so well between parents and practitioners. Supervisor– practitioner partnerships should be similarly responsive, flexible, supportive, and collaborative. Supervision to support practitioners as they develop and improve their skills requires regular meetings that are efficient, supportive, and stimulating. The advantage of regular and effective meetings for supervisors and practitioners is that they

  1. Give practitioners a place and time to meet and work together
  2. Provide practitioners with access to their supervisor
  3. Help build relationships that are positive, facilitative, and respectful
  4. Offer an opportunity for frequent and regular feedback to practitioners
  5. Help practitioners share ideas and solve problems with each other and their supervisor
  6. Ensure that everyone knows what the program is about
  7. Establish respect for families, cultures, and privacy
  8. Allow open discussion of "red flags"
  9. Promote readiness to change or improve as needed

Ongoing Program Improvement

How do you know if your program is working well? A program is likely to be most successful when the people who work for the program get ongoing feedback about how it is working. With a clear theory of change in mind, and with supportive supervision in place, practitioners and other program staff can take a look at what strategies are actually being used and how well they match the program's theory of change. Together, they can then plan ways to make the program more effective.

Earlier evaluations of in–home programs have shown that how well a home visiting program is implemented affects the outcomes of the program. For example, when Anne Duggan and her colleagues evaluated Hawaii's Healthy Start home visiting program, they found that benefits to families depended on which of several agencies administered the program. These findings led to increased efforts by the agencies to monitor evaluation data to be regularly returned to the program for improvement, a process called continuous program improvement. Data on the practices and outcomes of home visiting can be used not only to meet program requirements but also to assess program quality and make improvements to the program.

Many sources of information can be used to provide feedback to practitioners and help programs make improvements to the home visiting process. The most valuable sources of feedback are videotaped observations of home visits because they allow both practitioners and their supervisors to observe directly what really happens during home visits with individual families. Additional sources of information include observation notes, program records, staff reports and discussions, and descriptions or ratings by practitioners and parents. All of these sources of information can be used to examine the match between a program's theory of change and what the program's practitioners actually do. Based on that information, program staff can plan ways to improve the program.


Together, the approaches described in this book facilitate developmental parenting. The essential components of thoughtful planning, good practice with good tools, and ongoing program improvement are interrelated and linked together to make a developmental parenting program successful. The approaches, strategies, and examples in this book will be helpful, but it is also necessary for practitioners to make adaptations to their own programs and the families they serve. The basic concept of developmental parenting is wide reaching, but the specific ways it will happen may be different in one family compared with another. Likewise, the best ways to support developmental parenting may differ both by family and by program. The task of practitioners working with parents is also developmental. To be effective at promoting the development of parents, practitioners need to be aware of parents' development—value it, support it, and change along with it.

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Home visitors: Try the "developmental parenting" approach

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The HOVRS (in Appendix B) is included in the Home Visit Observation Brief about home visit observation instruments for assessing home visit quality and content from the Design Options for Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Evaluation (DOHVE) Technical Assistance team.

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