With 3 minutes left to the visit, Mikaela’s mother, Delia, asks “Can you stay a few extra minutes today?” She says she really needs your advice. Yesterday, the child care center director called because Mikaela bit another child. They threatened to expel Mikaela and Delia isn’t sure what to do. You pause because you know that your next visit starts in 15 min and it takes you that long to drive there. However, Delia’s question is important and you want to help. What do you do?
The Last Minute Question
Have you been there before? You know, being the receiver of the zinger that comes your way during those last wrap-up minutes at the end of an intervention visit. Or maybe it’s not a zinger and not even related to a problem, like being asked if you have a few minutes to give your opinion on paint colors for the den. Whatever the last minute question is, it requires a split second decision – Do I stay and risk my schedule for the rest of the day? Or, do I say “no, I sorry but I can’t stay” and try to address the issue later?
Option A: “Sure, I can stay…”
If you decide to stay, you must know that you are making a choice. You can’t “blame” the parent for making you late to your next visit. Taking just a second to pause and think about your choice is important. You might weigh the last minute question with its relative importance and how long it will take to answer. Addressing the child care problem will almost certainly take a while (not a 5 min conversation). Giving a quick opinion on paint colors might only take a few minutes. This also depends on how talkative the parent tends to be too. Lots of factors to consider in your split second choice.
Option B: “No, sorry, I can’t stay…”
This decision to decline is also affected by the same factors. If the question is really immediate, like with the child care issue, it can be hard to say “no.” Sometimes I think that these difficult last minute questions come up when they do because parents don’t want to interrupt the regular session or take away from what they perceive as the child’s time and their own time to learn. It might also be that the parent is reluctant to ask the question and works up the nerve at the last minute. I can remember several times when I was asked a question like “do you think he has autism?” as I was walking out the front door. These hard questions are scary and take courage to ask. Weighing the immediate situation and what you really can do with the parent’s need for support in that moment are so important – for you to balance your work needs and the support needs within parent-provider partnership. Saying “no” can have repercussions for your relationship, but saying “yes” every time can too.
What Do You Do?
Here are a few strategies you might consider when faced with the last minute question:
Define how long you can actually stay – If you chose Option A, you could say that you only have 5 minutes and ask the parent if she thinks that’s enough time to talk. Then, you stick to the decision. You really do leave after 5 minutes or you really do follow-up later.
Give choices – If you chose Option B, you could ask the parent what other options the two of you might have to get her question answered. Maybe you can call her later? Maybe you plan for a little extra time during the next visit?
Plan for wiggle room – If you know that a family often asks you to stay longer, or the visit just tends to go beyond your allotted time, plan ahead. If possible, plan for more of a cushion between that visit and your next one. Stick to the length of time written on the IFSP, but have that cushion there if you need it.
Talk with the service coordinator – If your visits are always running longer, talk with the service coordinator. He/she might be able to step in to provide additional support to the family so that the time you spend with them is focused on addressing the IFSP outcomes.
Talk with the family & set boundaries – Be honest. If the last minute question comes up a lot, let the parent know that you’d like to help but it’s also important that you honor the appointment times you have with other families. Tell her that, in the future, you’d be happy to take a moment to look at paint colors at the beginning of the visit instead of the end. It’s really up to you to set and maintain boundaries for what you can reasonably do during visits.
You help the parent learn how early intervention visits work. You do this through a combination of being friendly, flexible, and professional. You can do all of these while coaching the parent through solving a major problem or offering friendly advice on less pressing matters, even at the last minute. Good, honest communication is the key.
So what do you do when asked if you can stay a little longer? How have you handled this situation? What do you do when the caregiver needs more of your time than you can reasonably give?