After two decades working with families of young children, Alison Steier offers this advice to all new parents: know that parenting is hard and you don’t have to do it alone.
Steier leads the Birth to Five Helpline, a free service open to all Arizona families of young children birth to age 5. Early childhood experts are available by phone — Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. — to answer any parenting questions, from basic health and nutrition to how to handle challenging behaviors and more.
The Birth to Five Helpline is a program of Southwest Human Development and is partially funded by First Things First.
A thoughtful plan for your family
The Helpline’s bilingual (English/Spanish) specialists take as much time on the phone as parents need. They’ll talk with you about your child and family home life to get a clear a picture of the factors that could be affecting your little one.
The goal is to avoid giving generic advice. Take the topic of babies and sleep.
“There are a hundred different ways to get babies to go to sleep,” said Steier, who is vice president of mental health services at Southwest Human Development. “The real question is ‘Who is this baby? What kind of temperament do they have? What kind of a life do they have?’ Maybe they want the baby awake at a certain time because the parent is working and parents are trying to figure out a way for the baby to get enough sleep and have time with the parents.”
The specialist and the parent come up with a thoughtful plan, and there can be follow-up conversations to make adjustments needed to be successful.
“We help them think through a problem and help them feel supported,” Steier said.
“Every new baby makes you a new parent.”
Supporting babies in their first year
A special component of the Birth to Five Helpline is the Fussy Baby program, which provides support for parents during their baby’s first year. Sometimes there are challenges around feeding, or sometimes the questions are about babies that are hard to soothe or comfort.
“The first year of a baby’s life is a particular point of vulnerability for parents, babies and families,” Steier said. “Parents are finding their way in a new identity, and it doesn’t matter if the baby is their first or their third. Every new baby makes you a new parent.”
Information and understanding
The people answering the Helpline phones are experts on babies and young children, and they also know a lot about parents.
“Our staff is trained in a style of working with parents that helps them feel more confident,” Steier said. “The approach is to walk side-by-side with the parents. We’re not there to judge or criticize.”
The Birth to Five Helpline is available at 1-877-705-KIDS (5437). You can also leave a voicemail, submit your question online, or text the Helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Or download the Birth to Five app for your phone through the Apple App Store or Google Play.