Engaging Families, Intervention Visits, Practical Strategies

Parents – The Key to Success

Infant using iPad

Let’s face it …as Early Interventionists most of us can establish rapport with anyone under 3 feet tall in about 2 seconds. Sometimes, however, establishing rapport and building a relationship with parents is not that easy! In my experience, the interventionist/parent relationship is critical to the success of the intervention…it is one of the primary keys to success.

The family needs to identify with us as a professional who is there to help them but also as a person. Imagine it for a moment from their perspective, we are coming into their home and showing them how to interact differently with their children. Intimidating! We are asking them to try out strategies and share details of their family life and their struggles with us. How can they do that if they don’t trust us and feel a connection? For many this comes naturally and is instinctive. For others it is more difficult.

Here are some tips for everyone to help in establishing a solid working relationship with families.

  •  Always use the caregiver’s name. Dale Carnegie has taught the power of calling someone by name for years. Whether we are at home with parents or grandparents or at a day care center, call caregivers by name. You will be amazed at the results.
  • At your first meeting, take time to connect with the parent. You may feel like you are worlds away in lifestyle or interests from the family but you can still find something that you share in common. It may be the owl figurines on the shelf, the tree in the front yard or the mom’s hairstyle. Find something and connect!
  • Ask the parent about what she wants for her child and for your time together. Explain that you read the report from the assessment team as well as the goals but you just want to know more about her child and what how the child’s delay affects the family’s routines and daily life. Take time to really listen to the words and read the body language of the parent. This will give you great insight into where you need to begin!
  • Talk about what to expect from your visits. Remind her that the visit will consist of a great deal of talking and planning, showing and practicing.
  • During each session talk about when and how the family could use one of the practiced strategies. In a given session we demonstrate so many skills as we challenge, reassess and problem solve through each activity. To the parent that often seems so overwhelming and something “that only the therapist could do well”. Read the family and maybe start with one strategy and encourage them to practice one time a day for 15 minutes. That is so much less intimidating than thinking they should do everything you just did all day everyday!
  •  Make them feel valuable and essential for success. Give positive reinforcement for their efforts even if they are very small. We all know that positive reinforcement and feeling successful breeds more effort!

We need and expect the parents to be active participants for a successful intervention – we need to clearly communicate what that will look like. We have the ability to make each session a comfortable, safe and empowering experience. Establishing a solid, trusting relationship with the caregiver is the key to building confidence in their ability to follow through on strategies and activities with their child that will ultimately lead to mastery of goals and a successful early intervention experience.

What are some ways you have engaged an under-involved parent?

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5 Comments to “Parents – The Key to Success”

  1. I agree that making connections with families in order to build trusting relationships is an important first step. I also think that it is important to understand factors that may be affecting a family’s level of involvement. It is our role to make sure that we are addressing the family’s main concerns and priorities and that we suggest strategies that are “doable and feasible” for the family-ones they can easily incorporate within their everyday activities. The suggestions in this article provide good ideas for how to do this.

  2. We used this article in a training with Amy Cocorikis for the IDTA. We used it to facilitate group discussion on how we can involve parents who aren’t as engaged in sessions as we’d like them to be. We had some really good suggestions about finding something to connect with them on…one being their child!! Finding a way to make them feel that their child is special to you as well as them…such as, “I love my sessions with ____ because he makes me smile the whole time!”. Another suggestion was to re-visit why they feel the child needs your services. Sometimes what is on the IFSP can look very different than what comes from their mouths. we also discussed how essential it is to make your at-home programming as time friendly and integrated into their normal family routines as possible. Diaper changing time was constantly brought up as a good time to implement strategies…this way the strategy is done several times a day, but it isn’t taking up a large chunk of the family’s time. Another idea was to ask the parent what their favorite thing to do with their child is (or what would they like it to be if the child has a significant disability), then take that and make it a strategy so the parent is having fun too. For example, if a Dad wants to play football with his child but the child isn’t there yet developmentally, we could suggest that they play tickle games (for eye contact) or riding the horse (for core strength) so that the father still gets the physical fun part, but the child is also having strategies built into that fun, so it doesn’t feel like work for the father. These are just some of the ideas that were talked about, but I think the discussion could’ve gone on for a while!!

    • Thanks for sharing what ideas came up in your training, Sara! I think a great idea that could be woven throughout these activities is another simple one – to simply remember that the intervention session really belongs to the family. Finding ways to join them in their routines, building activities around what they enjoy or what they want the child to learn, and finding ways for them to engage their child (like you all said) are great ways to work together.

      I’ve often heard diaper changes brought up in trainings too because it’s such a common routine. I think it’s important to ask the parent something like “is this a good time for you (the parent) to try out this strategy?” In the past, I have assumed families could use a strategy when *I* thought it was doable, like at diaper changes or bathtime, but in their real life, it was completely not a good time. Asking first, then adjusting to the parent’s feedback makes EI so much more effective!

  3. You know, Dana, I love how some of the best ideas are really simple ones! The “aha – moments” like “the intervention session really belongs to the family”! Our group had such rich discussion and we all agreed that the strategies in this article would be a great way to begin with a new family to set the stage for shared expectations. Where a lot of us struggle, though, is how to make changes with a particular family, or in our own practice when our home visits might look and feel more like “my therapy session” while the parent observes from the couch. Some of the ideas that Sara’s breakout group generated were ways they thought to try and insert small changes into a work in progress. We are continuing these discussions in our next “Effective Home Visiting” workshop and are so thankful for the way your articles have energized our group’s efforts!!

    • It sounds like there was some great discussion at your training, Amy! As you know, we can’t change our practices unless we do the work of reflecting on them, which sounds exactly like what Sara’s group was doing. Your point about the struggle to make changes in practices with a particular family or within ourselves are very well-taken. Changes in these situations that are probably more likely to be successful are going to be small, like helping the parent engage the child while sitting on the couch (or in some other routine that they like) rather than insisting that the parent “get down on the floor.” Or within oneself, maybe the small change is asking each family you visit this week to tell you about what they like to do for fun (as Sara’s group suggested) and planning to join that activity at the next visit to practice strategies and problem-solve together ways to encourage development in that context.

      Keep me posted on what additional great ideas you all come up with in your next workshop!

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