For Families & Caregivers

Raising a child is a big job, but you’re not alone. There are resources that can help you every step of the way — from pregnancy until the time your child enters kindergarten. Smart Start is here to share information, support, and proven strategies to address challenges that parents and caregivers face.

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Strong and Healthy Families

Strong and Healthy Families

Children need safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments to reach their full potential. Protective factors are strengths and supports within families and communities that allow children to succeed.

Families gain what they need to be healthy and strong when key protective factors are robust in their lives and communities.

What Does This Look Like?

  • This looks like a community where people have multiple friendships and supportive relationships with others.
  • Families both give and receive help. Families know where to go for support and services and are encouraged to advocate for themselves and their children.
  • When needed, families have hope and problem-solving skills they can draw upon.
  • Parents are nurturing and provide warm and consistent responses. Their expectations for children are in line with children’s development and specific needs.
  • Parents looking to strengthen skills in any one of these areas can contact Smart Start of New Hanover County for information, support or referrals.

Frequently  Asked Questions

What is social-emotional learning?

Social-emotional learning (SEL) for young children teaches skills to understand and manage emotions, set positive goals, show empathy, build healthy relationships, and make responsible decisions. It involves five core competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. SEL is crucial for children’s overall development, mental health, and success in school and life, as it helps them develop emotional intelligence and social skills.

What is a developmental milestone?

When you visit a pediatrician for well-child visits, they may ask questions about your child’s abilities to help them understand how your child is growing. In general, many children develop similar skills at around the same age, while some children will develop those skills earlier or later than others. Milestones are recorded when your child builds skills in areas like these:

  • Physical abilities (Examples: Rolling over, walking, grasping a crayon)
  • Cognitive abilities (Examples: Recognizing patterns, responding in multi-word sentences)
  • Social abilities (Examples: Asking for help, demonstrating a sense of humor)
  • Emotional abilities (Examples: Showing concern for those who are hurt, expressing affection)

Smart Start’s parent education programs teach parents about developmental milestones using guidance from the CDC and developmental screening tools, such as the Ages and Stages Questionnaire. Parent educators work with parents on understanding reasonable expectations for their child’s abilities at a given age.

How can I recognize developmental delays in my child?
Because children develop at different rates, it’s important to remember that developmental milestones will be achieved at different times, and not necessarily exactly on the timeline provided by the CDC or your pediatrician. It’s also important to spend time observing your child at play and at rest in different environments to see how they behave in different settings. Having background knowledge of appropriate behaviors, skills and abilities at different ages is helpful for parents, and it can be helpful to have someone else observe your child to provide an objective view of their development. At Smart Start, parent educators are trained to administer screening tools like the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, which can help to identify potential developmental challenges with communication skills, behaviors, and other developmental areas. Parent educators support parents in identifying concerns and considerations around early intervention for potential developmental delays.
What do I do when my child won't stop whining/interrupting/arguing/etc.?
At times, all children do things their parents wish they wouldn’t, especially when it comes to communicating wants and needs in ways that feel frustrating or disrespectful. When your child does this, take a deep breath and remember—they’re trying to communicate something to you, and it’s your job to teach them a better (kinder, gentler, or less annoying!) way to do that. Try some of these ideas on your own:

  • Tell your child that you expect them to speak kindly to you. Use a kind tone of voice yourself so that you are modeling the behavior you want to see.
  • Notice when your child is more likely to be whiny and consider whether the behavior is caused by circumstances like a child being tired, hungry, or bored. See if changing those circumstances changes your child’s behavior.
  • Let your child know that you are going to be busy with something and offer them a choice of activities to do, then explain that you will not respond to their interruptions while you are completing your tasks. Respond to their interruptions by sending them back to their chosen activity.
  • Point out that your child is arguing and that you will not negotiate with them. Tell them how they can respond to you without arguing.

Here’s the thing: when you’re encountering difficult behaviors (and maybe when you’re feeling tired, hungry, or bored yourself), it’s tough to model clear, kind and respectful communication with your family. Smart Start’s parent educators can help you practice strategies for communicating with your family in a positive way so that whining, interrupting, and arguing happen less frequently.

When should I start introducing solid foods to my baby?
Eating solid food is an activity that depends on certain developmental milestones. If your baby can sit with support, shows interest in solid foods, and has good head control, you may be ready to talk with your pediatrician about introducing some solid foods to your baby’s mealtimes. This often happens when a baby is around 6 months old. Smart Start’s parent educators can help you identify relevant milestones and support you when you’re ready to guide your child’s exploration of new foods.
How do I begin a sleep routine for my baby/toddler/preschooler?

Sleep is important for the whole family, and especially for children who are growing so much every day. It’s never too early to establish rhythms around going to sleep, and then to introduce more structured routines once a baby is ready. Even children who have not followed a clear sleep routine before can learn a naptime or bedtime routine when parents consistently follow through with it.
Here are some things to consider about sleep routines:

  • Think about how much sleep your child needs for their age and whether they are often tired at certain times of day.
  • Does their sleep environment seem comfortable?
  • What activities work best for your child to help them get settled down when it’s time to sleep or rest?

Parent educators at Smart Start can help you think through designing a sleep routine for your child that will help the whole household get more rest.

What is the recommended amount of screen time for children under 5 years old?

Not all screen time has the same effect—for example, a video call with a faraway relative has a different impact from children’s entertainment programming. Plus, not all children are affected the same way by screentime. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents employ a thoughtful approach to choosing how much screen time will work best for their children, and offers the following guidance:

  • Children under 18 months: Avoid screen time for entertainment, except for video chatting.
  • Children 18-24 months: If using digital media, engage with the child and choose high-quality content.
  • Children 2-5 years old: Limit screen time to one hour per day of high-quality programming, and actively engage with the child during this time.

Parent educators can help you assess the ways your child engages with digital content and can help you plan ways to engage with your child, with or without screens.

Featured Videos

These featured videos have been curated to answer various questions you may have about your child.