Engaging Families, Intervention Visits, Service Coordination, What Would You Do?

Would You Like a Cup of Tea?

You knock on the door, enter the family’s home and take off your coat. Maybe you take off your shoes, too. And the mother asks, “Can I get you a cup of tea, or a soda, or anything?” What is your initial response?

Mine was always, “No, thanks. I’m fine.” Then one day I visited with a Kurdish family.  I wasn’t asked, however, if I wanted hot tea. Instead, almost as soon as I entered and sat down, the tea was placed before me as well as a slice of baklava.

I remembered that some of my colleagues had told me that they ALWAYS refused any offer of food. But this food was already served. I remember thanking them and taking the plunge. It seemed like the right thing to do and I was going by sheer “gut instinct.” By the way, the baklava was HEAVENLY!

A cup of tea became a part of each visit with this particular family. Over tea, we talked about how things had gone in the weeks between my visit and discussed what was important for this visit. It also became a time to learn more about their country of origin as well as their customs and beliefs.

Soon the child was ready to transition to early childhood special education. The ECSE teacher asked about making a joint home visit. When the teacher and I arrived at the family’s home, an ENORMOUS spread of food was laid out before us.  This was much more than tea! Soon the mother and children began carrying out more plates of different foods that I did not recognize. The father quietly served the teacher and me as the mother and children watched.

I am not vegetarian but I’m also not much of a meat eater so I had a moment’s hesitation when the father placed some unidentified meat and bones on my plate. Now, all I could hear was my mother whispering in my ear, “Be respectful. Don’t hesitate to try new things” and lots of other motherly advice. But, the truth was, I just was not sure I could eat the unidentified meat.  I began sampling the foods that clearly looked like fruits, vegetables, and starches. The father quickly noticed that I was avoiding what would later be identified as lamb and asked, “You don’t like “da sheep?”

I realized at that minute that it was ok. The family recognized my dilemma but appreciated that I was trying so many unknown foods. For over a year, we had shared tea and stories and had established a relationship built on trust. It didn’t matter that our cultures and our beliefs were very different. It didn’t matter that I didn’t eat lamb. What mattered, was that I put aside the “steadfast rules” and adapted to this family’s individuality and uniqueness.

How do you manage the “food dilemma?” Did culture or family values play a role in your decision to reject or accept the food?




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12 Comments to “Would You Like a Cup of Tea?”

  1. Dana, I very much enjoyed reading your post! It’s funny because this always seems to happen when I “treat” in clients’ homes. I enjoy eating all kinds of food (and it’s starting to show – ha!). I was raised that it’s polite to eat (at least try) already prepared food when it’s offered to you. I find this particularly the case when ethnic food is offered. I take it more that the family wants to share a part of themselves with you and it can be quite personal. What’s wonderful about these opportunities is that they can be turned into family education times or intervention. Cooking and mealtimes are great ways to target family centered communication goals!

  2. Oops! Sorry, I meant, Cori!

    • No worries, Kim! I agree about cooking and mealtimes offering great opportunities to address communication. You can also address things like positioning, social interaction, fine motor skills (like using different grasps to pick up food), and of course self-feeding. When the opportunity presents itself, you might as well take advantage of it because you can learn alot about the family AND work together to develop strategies they can use when you aren’t there at dinnertime!

  3. Kim and Dana: I absolutely agree! I love that more and more early interventionists are thinking about those family routines and how to “use” them to support the child’s development. You both have identified a multitude of opportunities to support learning while enjoying your “tea” with the family AND learning about their culture!

  4. Gosh, I am reminded of the time I was presented with a huge (7+ ounce)of orange juice…yikes I don’t drink orange juice but I did that day! Be courteous and polite I kept repeating to myself. The Hispanic families often offer a bottle of water or a can of soda after a home visit is completed during the summer. Since the bottles/cans are unopened I accept them. For cups and glasses presented or foods, I’m always silently say a grace. Again be courteous and polite. 🙂

  5. Hi Everyone I have been reading this for a while but haven’t responded much. I remember when I first starting my degree, I was doing a practicum in one of the local public preschool and I went with the teacher on the home visits. There was one family from the middle east (I regret I do not remember where specifically now), that the teacher always schedule around lunch time and when I asked she told me ‘you’ll see’ and I did. The family made included us as part of lunch on those days. It just so happened that in one of my classes were studying the multicultural aspects of developmental disabilities, teaching and everything that we all run to in the field. Which helped when I realized not only was this how the mother was probably brought up to treat guests, but it was also the families way of thanking us for what we did. In our case they weren’t making anything too much different then what they usually did (At least I don’t think so) but it was a for them to show their appreciation of what we were doing. In my current job I don’t always accept things, partially because it always seemed to get in the way of the session, but I next time I will try making a part of the session.

    • Thanks for sharing, Sarah. I love hearing stories that help all of us to consider our practices. It sounds like with your early experience with the family from the Middle East it really gave you an opportunity to share in an important everyday activity. They were including you in their routine. How cool is that! And in your current job, you might be able to consider how to use those routines and activities as part of your visit.

  6. I have found that many latin families that I visit share their food, even when it is an expense for them or they do not have much for themselves. I thank them and ask if they do not mind if I only take half a glass or a small portion. Typically, they seem to appreciate that I am not wasting their food, but that I do appreciate their hospitality.

    • Hi Edith: I’m glad you commented. Your strategy seems like a really respectful way to recognize the family’s finance hardships while still respecting their culture and their willingness to share with you. I like it! (-:

    • I think this could be a good strategy too for picky eaters like me. I have to admit that I have declined alot of food because it just plain looked wierd to me and I wasn’t brave enough to try it. Rather than declining when a family offers, take a smaller portion to be polite and respectful. Thanks for the suggestion Edith!

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