If someone had asked me this question when my son was a toddler, it would have instantly made me smile. Just thinking about his belly laugh, the way his eyes twinkled, made me feel good inside and conjured up fun times. I could have listed many things because we laughed a lot. Whenever we played with a soft cloth ball, he would cackle whenever he missed catching it and it bonked him in the forehead. He laughed when he was ticked, whenever he saw a dog run by, and when he heard a raspberry sound. Just with this simple question, anyone who asked could have learned a lot about us…that we liked to laugh, we played together, we weren’t afraid to be silly, that my husband was an important caregiver, and that my son was motivated by balls, funny noises, tickling and animals.
Simple Questions Can Yield Great Information
Using simple questions like these can be very effective in helping you get to know the a new family or child care provider. You can find out about the parent-child relationship and the parent’s perceptions of the child. The answers can also help you find a direction for intervention. Maybe most importantly, a question like this can help make a timid parent feel more comfortable by inviting her to talk about something she knows a great deal about.
What To Do with What You Know
Now think about how you, as an early interventionist, could use the simple information I described about my son. You know that he tries to catch a ball when thrown to him but misses. He engages with others, hears well enough to hear the raspberry, can visually follow or at least notice the movement of an animal, isn’t overwhelmed with the sensation of tickling, and may be beginning to understand early turn-taking. What you now know could be used when completing the IFSP, specifically related to our daily routines and activities, functional info for the assessment, and context for outcomes. You also have knowledge you can access during intervention visits to engage my son and me, and more importantly, to help me engage him in ways that help us address our goals.. Lots of info in a simple question, huh?
…But What If the Answer Doesn’t Come?
On the other hand, what if I had replied “I don’t know.” or “Well, he really never laughs.” These answers also telling. When a parent doesn’t know what makes her child happy, that should give you pause.
You might wonder: Is the mother the child’s primary caregiver? Who else is involved in the child’s care and how does he react with them? Do the mother and child have a healthy attachment? What does the child’s “laugh” look like (because maybe you and the mother are thinking about different behaviors)? Some children produce a belly laugh from the first giggle, others laugh with a quiet smirk, and still others laugh silently with their eyes, especially if the child has neurological or muscle tone concerns.
If the parent says the child never laughs, you might wonder: How does he show emotion? What are possible reasons for why he doesn’t laugh? Answers like these also spawn additional questions that inform the next steps in the EI process. I’ve met children who have troubled attachments, who have undiscovered visual impairments, who have muscle tone issues in the face, or who struggle with engaging and responding to others – all who appeared to never really laugh. It might be easy to stop digging when you get answers like these, but in fact, digging deeper is really the key.
Sometimes these simple questions can open doors, like when parents struggle to share information or know what to say. When a simple question or its answer makes you pause, then there’s information to be gleaned there too.
What simple questions do you ask to help you learn about families and their children?
What are your “go-to” questions to get the conversation started?
For more ideas for simple and effective questions, visit the IFSP & Outcome Development page on the Virginia Early Intervention Professional Development Center site. Scroll down and look for the “Good Questions” series of handouts and the “Tell Us About Your Child” handout (PDF, New Window).