Champion’s for Children’s Healthy Families home visiting program works to improves childhood outcomes and increases family self-sufficiency in the Tampa Bay Area. Our Family Support Workers empower and support expectant and new parents experiencing stressful life situations by helping them learn to recognize and respond to their babies’ changing developmental needs while coping with the day-to-day stress of parenting in healthy ways.”

Shalonda has been a Healthy Families parent for nearly a year. As a new mother with a full-time job, she sought extra support in raising her infant twin daughters and dealing with the stresses of parenthood. She was referred to Healthy Families via the Healthy Start Coalition of Hillsborough County. On Thursday, Sept. 6, Shalonda generously welcomed us into her home to get an up-close look at the work Healthy Families Family Support Workers do in the community every day.

 

Melissa Gilyard arrives to Shalonda’s Temple Terrace home at precisely 2:30 pm, a neatly organized collection of papers and toddler’s toys in hand. She greets Shalonda warmly, like an old friend, and immediately removes her shoes (house rules). After some small talk, they move to Shalonda’s living room, where they are greeted by smiling faces of her twin 8-month-old daughters: A’lana & Giselle, surrounded by colorful age-appropriate toys of all shapes and sizes.

The two women take a seat beside the babbling toddlers, and without missing a beat, Melissa gets to work. She starts by asking Shalonda some basic questions about the twins: their recent doctor’s appointments, their sleeping and eating patterns, any recent changes in behavior. She takes careful note of it all, confirming that the toddlers are in good health and appear to be developmentally on track.

After a few additional questions, she tells Shalonda that she’d like to work on some basic socio-emotional development exercises during this visit. She explains that her daughters are at a developmental stage during which they learn by observing and mimicking behaviors, and she encourages Shalonda to try stimulating this behavior with her daughters by following the 4 Steps to Success: 1) get the child’s attention. 2) Show her how. 3) Wait & watch 4) Praise her. Melissa puts particular emphasis on the last point, encouraging Shalonda to actively praise her daughters each time regardless of the outcome. (After all, even if it’s not immediately apparent, they will still be internalizing her movements and attempting to mimic her behavior.)

Shalonda tries the copying technique with Giselle. She makes sure she has the toddler’s attention, then makes a raspberry sound with her mouth, and pauses. Giselle simply smiles. Shalonda immediately praises her daughter, then tries again. This time, Giselle breathes loudly through her mouth–a valiant effort! Again, Shalonda makes sure to give her daughter heaps of praise.

After a few more rounds of the copying exercise with both girls, Melissa introduces a new activity: learning through play. She offers Shalonda a collection of rattles constructed from household materials, and encourages her to baby-proof them by wrapping them in duct tape, ensuring that her girls won’t accidentally take them apart and swallow the small pieces inside. She also gives Shalonda a worksheet to help her observe and record her twins’ interactions with the toys.

While Giselle and A’lana get happily get acquainted with their new playthings, Melissa and Shalonda segue into a discussion about the ups and downs of parenting. Shalonda describes the twins’ recent stranger anxiety when her family came to visit. Melissa assures her that this is completely normal behavior for toddlers of their age, and encourages her to practice simple activities like the peek-a-boo game to help foster their memory development. They also discuss the girls’ newfound affinity to explore the apartment–a great sign of their continued healthy development. Melissa encourages Shalonda to set boundaries within her home and to keep her girls under supervision while they explore. She also tells Shalonda to avoid scolding them for trying to wander outside their boundaries, since it’s a natural part of their exploring behaviors.

After some free play and a few more tries with the copying exercise (Shalonda attempts to get her daughters to mimic her drumming on one of their new toys…success!), Melissa helps Shalonda clean up and wraps up the visit for the day. Before she leaves, they set a plan for next week’s visit–Monday morning, 8:30 sharp.