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?