Parents are the First Teachers

I had the opportunity this week to talk to Saka Coy (IMH-E®), Program Supervisor for the County’s Parents as Teachers program – part of the suite of services in Maternal Child Health which also includes Babies First Home Visits, Women Infants and Children, Family Connects among other wonderful assets available to the community.

“They may forget what you said but they will never forget how you made them feel.” — Carl W. Buehner

Saka and I recorded both a County Connections radio show for broadcast the following morning on KNPT Radio (archived online) and then filmed a direct message to parents acknowledging the increased difficulty they may be experiencing during our COVID-19. Her message in the video below emphasized the necessity of emotional bonding, intimacy and simply being present for our kids.

Easier said than done, at least, for me. My adult brain and aspirations must share space with my long-forgotten child brain necessities  Why is it so challenging to just “be” with my kid? How hard could playing Legos or digging in the dirt for hours really be? Yet, we both need structure and boundaries to remind us that binging on Oreos, endless screen time and lack of sleep will lessen our resilience and emotional temperament.  

Our audio recording is available online for review. (

Parents as Teachers is a service of tremendous value – before, during and after COVID. There is a waiting list, at this time. But, don’t hesitate to make the call yourself or recommend this opportunity to parents you know.  Call (541) 265-0436. In the interim,  visit the national website ( It has accessible resources that can be utilized immediately – in English and Spanish.

Parents a Teachers “Promotes the optimal early development, learning and health of children by supporting and engaging their parents and caregivers.” During normal circumstances parent educators visit families in the comfort of their homes if they choose. Parents may also meet educators in other desired locations if this option is more comfortable. Currently, many meetings are being conducted online and over the phone.

Parent educators work with caregivers from birth until age four to promote early development and help get children ready for school. Participation is voluntary and there is no cost. Essential aspects of the guidance provided include:

  • Promoting the interaction between parent and child
  • Caregiver and child bonding
  • Activities and games that are easily duplicated at home with household materials
  • Goal setting and planning
  • Completing developmental screenings (Ages and Stages Questionnaires)
  • Complete additional health and wellness screenings
  • Referrals to services (Head Start, Self-Sufficiency, etc.)

Family Fun Time another aspect of the program is an opportunity to meet and connect with other families. While this option is currently not available due to COVID these scheduled activities are available at public libraries throughout the County – details on the County’s website – when “normal” resumes.

Saka ‘s message for parents during our challenging atmosphere. I love her passion for the work. We both share a recognition of Brene Brown, “Trust is earned in the smallest of moments. It is earned not through heroic deeds, or even highly visible actions, but through paying attention, listening, and gestures of genuine care and connection.

My conversations with Saka and previous experiences filming County nurses during Babies First Home Visits illustrate their high degree of passion, empathy and trained technical skill.  Saka holds a Infant Mental Health Endorsement. “The IMH‐E process involves verifying that an applicant has attained appropriate education, worked in specialized professional services, received specialized mentoring/supervision in infant mental health work and has attained the specialized infant mental health skills to deliver high quality, culturally sensitive, relationship‐focused services. “

Additionally, “Research clearly demonstrates that early promotion of healthy social emotional development has a positive impact on children’s physical and mental health, school readiness, academic performance and lifelong learning, productivity and success.” (Sroufe et al. 2005, McClelland & Tominey 2014, Mischel 2014, Moffit et al. 2011).”

Talking to Saka reminded me of my early days of parenting. If only I had known about this program – what an asset it would have been! When we were new to the game a coworker/dad said to me “I think my kid’s personalities were pretty much forged by the age of five.” During my journey, I have since found myself telling other new and anticipating parents that the first years are critical: embrace the intimacy and set aside many of your other aspirations. Think of parenting as any other profession that requires expertise and continued education. Get dialed in. Thankfully, my wife, an incredible mother, books and my own education prepared me to dig in to that critical developmental window.  We put in the work those first five years. Our son who is nine seems to be thriving.

Reed at age two. How time flies. I do miss those moments when packing paper and masking tape were simple tools of creative engagement. Now, it’s a tug of war with the allure of Minecraft. What gifts will parenting bring next?

Yet, this “stay at home” and home school experience has challenged me. It has been difficult to work from home and simultaneously provide the guidance and mentorship I know is best. I try an imagine how much more difficult this would have been for us if COVID was happening in his early childhood.

I am writing here and now because if I could turn back the clock and jump into a time machine I would have signed up for Parents as Teachers. I think our culture is indeed wise to recognize and provide such services for our community. It might not be evident that these early years are the foundation until you’ve witnessed the brilliance, innocence, and need of companionship children desire.  Even then, parenting is both hard and rewarding. Why not learn learn new strategies and tactics to optimize our children’s health, well being and future potential? Guidance is a phone call away. And, the timing could not be better.  Good luck fellow parents. Hang in there!