We’ve all had that visit…the one where we knock on the door for the first time and the family is less than pleased to see us arrive. Or the visit where, after we arrive, the parent leaves us in the living room and doesn’t reappear for 10 minutes. Or, the visit where the parent is nervous and the child is crying and it feels like this isn’t the best time for intake paperwork. How do you rescue a first visit with a family that starts off shaky? Here are a few ideas:
Build rapport and prepare the family BEFORE the visit
When you talk to the parent before the visit, spend some time chatting about the child to try to get to know the family. Offer flexibility with scheduling and ask the parent when is a good time for the visit. Describe what the parent can expect on the visit to alleviate some of the anxiety that goes with having a stranger coming to the family’s home.
Be warm, friendly, and kind
This should go without saying, but sometimes we get in “professional” mode and forget how hard it can be for a parent to have a stranger arrive at his home to talk about concerns about his child. Approach the family with acceptance and an attitude of partnership. Research says that two of the most effective things you can do when working with families are to just be friendly and help them feel comfortable with the process. YOU set the stage for the early intervention relationship.
Remember that you are a guest
When you arrive, introduce yourself and ask again if this is a good time to meet. Follow the parent’s lead regarding whether or not to remove your shoes and where to sit. Take time to get to know the parent and child before diving into the developmental screening or completing paperwork. Spend time upfront just playing with and enjoying the child.
Pay a genuine compliment
Pay a genuine compliment to the parent – about the baby’s outfit, the music playing, photos you see, the flowers on the front porch, etc. Everyone loves to be noticed for their interests or things they love.
Comment on something interesting or something you have in common
Look around the room and listen to the parent to find something you have in common. Use this to have a comfortable conversation without spending too much time talking about yourself. Or, comment on something interesting – a picture on the wall, the family pet, etc.
Explain the expectations for how early intervention works
Talk to the parent about her role in the child’s intervention and why active participation is so important. If the parent wanders off, ask if you can tag along. Give gentle reminders if necessary, and if the parent is not able to participate, ask if she would like to reschedule for another day that would work better. Often, when a parent is not participating in the visit, it is because she doesn’t know what to expect or what role to play or because something more pressing is going on in the family’s life.
Explain what you’re doing and why
Talk to parent through the screening and through any paperwork. Invite the parent to ask questions and read everything, allowing plenty of time for both.
When the parent mentions a problem, start working together to solve it.
If the parent mentions a concern or a problem, see how you or your program can help. Be careful not to swoop in and fix it, but rather talk with the parent to find out more about the issue, what she has already tried to do to address the problem, and what kind of help she needs. Brainstorm together to try to come up with some solutions.
Say “thank you.”
Thank the parent for taking the time to meet with you, for providing information, and for the opportunity to meet the child and the family. Ending on an appreciative note can help set the stage for the parent-provider partnership that is so essential to successful intervention.
What other strategies do you use to smooth out a shaky visit?