Early Intervention Strategies for Success

Sharing What Works in Supporting Infants & Toddlers and the Families in Early Intervention

Early Intervention Strategies for Success, Tips, Insight and Support for EI Practitioners


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  • DEC Recommended Practices – Interaction (Part 2)(current)
Seal of Best Practices

In last week’s post, which was Part 1 in this series, I began trying to translate the DEC Recommended Practices for Interaction into practices we can use with caregivers. Rather than focusing on how we can implement these practices with children, we need to really think about how to help parents, child care providers, siblings, and other interaction partners in a child’s life learn how to engage children to promote development. So much of the development of social-emotional, communication, and cognitive skills occur within the context of these important relationships. We are typically pretty fantastic at interacting with young children, but we do our best work when we share what we know about how to engage them with caregivers so that they can use those practices everyday, between visits.

Helping Caregivers Use the DEC Interaction Practices (continued)

In the previous post, I provided descriptions and examples of how we can help caregivers implement intervention practices that focus on promoting children’s social and communication skills. Now, let’s wrap up this series by thinking about interaction practices that promote cognitive development and the use of problem-solving skills.

INT4. Practitioners promote the child’s cognitive development by observing, interpreting, and responding intentionally to the child’s exploration, play, and social activity by joining in and expanding on the child’s focus, actions, and intent.

Early interventionists can be partners in promoting cognitive and social play. Through the parent-child-practitioner triad, the interventionist and parent can practice play strategies that expand the child’s ability to focus, problem-solve, and persist.

Example: While observing play with a shape sorter, a physical therapist (PT) notices how the child throws the shapes rather than trying to insert them. The PT coaches the child’s older sister through using hand-over-hand guidance to help the child feel successful. The PT then helps the sister learn how to gradually reduce how much guidance she provides so that her sibling learns to complete the action of finding and inserting the shape with less help. They talk about how this same strategy could be used when the siblings take turns feeding their baby dolls.

INT5. Practitioners promote the child’s problem-solving behavior by observing, interpreting, and scaffolding in response to the child’s growing level of autonomy and self-regulation.

Example: An educator observes a child and mother at lunchtime to look for opportunities for the child to practice problem-solving and using his hands together. She and the mother brainstorm ways to challenge the child without upsetting him. They come up with the idea to offer him “seconds” on his Goldfish crackers by putting the crackers in a small plastic container. At first, they offer the child the container with the lid closed, and the child cannot open it. They scaffold the activity by opening the lid just enough that the child can more easily remove it next time. They use this activity to motivate the child and help him learn persistence and how to request help from his mother when needed.

These examples remind us that, in order to do our best work, we need to work within the context the caregiver-child relationship. Sure, we will still interact with the child, but we do it for the purpose of supporting the caregiver in learning new strategies he/she can use with the child during the week. Implementing these practices requires a sensitive balance of interacting with caregivers and children in ways that build their capacity to engage each other when we aren’t there. Take a moment to reflect on how you do this, who you primarily interact with during visits, and whether your practices match the examples in this post.

If you want to reflect further, check out the DEC Recommended Practices Products for Interaction. You’ll find checklists you can use for self-assessment and practice guides for you and for families (also available in Spanish). Here’s an example:

Adult-Child Interaction Checklist (PDF, New Window)

Access this checklist and share a comment about it below. Consider this:

How could you use this checklist and these practices to guide your interactions with families?

What is your favorite strategy for helping caregivers interact with their children to encourage problem-solving skills? Communication? Playful engagement?

To read more about how to implement other DEC Recommended Practices, be sure to check out the rest of this series by searching for “DEC Recommended Practices” using the search feature at the top of the page.

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