Ever had one of those experiences where you realize that, while you think you did your best, you completely forgot what you were supposed to do? Ever had that experience on an intervention visit?
I had that experience recently…I was on a first visit with a family and was planning to set the stage for how we would work together. I was going to talk about what good early intervention looks like and how we would work together doing things the family naturally does or would like to do. I was going to stay firmly planted in my role as a consultant and coach for the parent. But, before I knew it, I was instead firmly planted on the floor by an adorable, funny toddler who was pulling out all of her tricks to get me to interact with her. After a few minutes (okay, more than a few), I realized that I was in the lead, the parent was watching, and I had gone off track. I relocated back to the couch and re-engaged the parent, and yet, before I knew it, I was up playing another game with the child. I just kept getting pulled in. In fact, I felt pulled in two directions and both of them were worthy. After the visit, I got in my car and realized that I felt like I had completely forgotten what I intended to do on the visit, which was focus on the parent-child interactions.
Was What I Did Wrong?
So that’s the question that came up for me…was what I did wrong? By spending time engaging the child, did I break the code of evidence-based early intervention, which focuses on supporting parents and children during their interactions in the context of their routines and activities? Honestly, I don’t think so, but what I did probably wasn’t the best way to help the parent know how to use intervention strategies with her child when I wasn’t there. Yes, she watched…yes, she talked about how she could use the strategies during the day…and yes, we developed a joint plan. What I could have done much better was remember to offer her the opportunity to practice using the strategy with her child. That was what I forgot.
So the more I reflected, the more I realized that I’m not sure that we were ready for the practice piece. It was a first visit and we were still getting to know each other. Even if I had remembered and offered practice opportunities, I’m not sure that she would have been comfortable yet. In typing that, I realized that it sounds like an excuse…well, she wasn’t ready so we didn’t do it. No – that is my assumption and it could be incorrect. I did not offer her the chance to try to strategy so how did I really know whether or not she was ready? Just thinking through that reminds me of what I’ve heard so many parent advocates say: “Don’t make decisions about what we need or what we want to do. Give us the information, provide the opportunities, and let us decide.” That was where I goofed.
Developing the Partnership that Facilitates the Practice
I do think that the close partnership between an early interventionist and a parent takes time to develop. Offering the parent the opportunity to take the lead, be observed, receive feedback, and decide which strategies he/she wants to use are activities that don’t need to wait until we have a certain level of rapport built. However, I think understanding that as the relationship builds, BOTH of us will feel more comfortable in our roles and those easy back-and-forth interactions of reflection, practice, and feedback should happen more fluidly. It has to start somewhere, though, and if I don’t remember my role in facilitating it, it may not happen. I set the tone of the visit, and I want that tone to be that I am there to support the family, not to just play with and teach the child.
Reflection is hard, but we don’t have to be hard on ourselves. I’ll go into the next visit with a greater awareness of what I need to do and how I hope to help the family. Yes, I’ll still likely get pulled right in by an amazing toddler, but next time, I will remember to pause and invite the parent along for the fun. Or better yet, maybe I can join their fun instead!
Have you ever felt like this? What did you do?
How do you balance engaging the parent and the child? What do you do to keep yourself on track?