‘You Never Know What You’re Going To Get’ Answering Calls To Parenting Helpline
If being a new parent is the hardest job in the world, as they say, then, the four women who work for the Birth to Five Helpline at Southwest Human Development in Phoenix may have the second hardest.
Every day, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. anyone – parents, grandparents, teachers, caregivers of any kind – can call the Birth to Five Helpline and get their questions answered.
The people who answer these calls are early childhood specialists and they field questions, provide support and connect caregivers to resources and experts within Southwest Human Development and throughout the community.
“We get calls about child development, and concerns about whether children are developmentally on track…we get calls about kids who aren’t sleeping…feeding problems, questions about what’s coming next in development and how to support development, worries about parenting,” said Alison Steier, who runs the helpline and is the director of mental health services at Valley nonprofit Southwest Human Development.
The Helpline is celebrating its 10th year of operation this year, and that means they’ve heard it all, including their “fair amount of freak-outs,” Steier said.
These days, when Googling can make parents more confused and there are countless books on parenting, she thinks talking to an expert is more necessary than ever.
“I mean, in a way, there’s no handbook, in a way there’s a million,” she said.
New parents in Arizona are sent home from the hospital with a kit, and, in it, there’s a magnet with 1-877-705- KIDS on it, the Birth to Five Helpline, with their catch phrase below: "nothing out of the question."
“You never know what you’re going to get,” said Claudia Tsiaousopoulos, an early childhood specialist who has worked answering calls at the helpline for five years. She said the calls she gets on the helpline run the gamut, from average queries about tantrums, sleep problems and potty training, to much more serious concerns.
Once, a grandmother called because he didn’t know how to tell her granddaughter that her mother had died while she was serving in Iraq.
“It was a hard one, I talked to her for a while,” Tsiaousopoulos said. “We talk about some ways that she can think about her mom and tell her…in a 4-year-old way that she’s, she’s not coming back.”
“Sometimes callers call and it sounds very simple at first,” Steier said. Like, how many ounces in a bottle for a 2-month-old.
“It sounds simple and sometimes it is. But, sometimes people bury the lead. You know, they don’t always say what most worries them from the start. And when you invite them to talk more about their parenting experience, when you create a space for that, you sometimes hear the, kind of, quiet desperation of parents.”
That’s why Tsiaousopoulos said the best thing she can give to a worried caregiver is her time.
“A lot of people, you know, they don’t have many friends or relatives or just even someone that they can talk to and tell their concerns,” she said. “You know, they may be divorcing or maybe having some difficulties that they just want someone out there, that they don’t know, to express their situations and, yeah, they open up and they really, they are really grateful for that time.”