You know the feeling…you see a family you support at the mall or Wal-Mart. It happens on the weekend or in the evening outside of an intervention visit. In those few seconds before they see you, you have to decide what to do. Do you go over and say “hi” or do you wait to see if they come up to you? You notice that they are with other people whom you haven’t met before. You consider the very real possibility that these people could be friends or family members who don’t know that the child is enrolled in early intervention. If you walk up to the family, they may feel like they have to introduce you. Will the parents be okay with that?
Do you keep walking as if you haven’t noticed them? You consider what they may think if you don’t say “hi” and you don’t want to be rude but…
Then there is also the consideration for your friend/spouse who is shopping with you. Should you introduce him or her to the family? How do you do that without breaching the family’s confidentiality?
Respecting Confidentiality, Boundaries, & Parent Preference
I know this seems like a lot of questions for one brief scenario, but these are all important things to think about when you run into a family outside of the typical, planned intervention situation. These considerations really revolve around confidentiality and what is comfortable for the family. I have experienced parents walking up to me and introducing themselves to my husband. I’ve had parents introduce me to someone else as a teacher or just as a friend (when I don’t think they wanted the other person to know about our relationship). I have also had parents notice me but not come over to speak at all.
What’s Your Plan?
My husband and I developed a system where I would cue him that I saw a family I worked with (without pointing them out to him) and he would fade into the background or duck into a shop so that if they wanted to talk to me it would be less uncomfortable for everyone. I was happy to talk with them but wanted to be careful to respect their preferences and confidentiality outside of the regular visit. Early interventionists work closely with families and form close professional relationships. Monitoring our boundaries can sometimes be a challenge outside of the intervention visit!
What do you do when you see a family you support in a public place (that’s not a planned intervention visit)? How do you handle introductions?