You are committed to helping families practice using intervention strategies during your visits. You truly believe that’s an important part of the intervention process. You’re very aware of your own interactions during visits and try hard not to “hog” all of the child’s attention. You redirect the child’s attention from you back to the parent whenever you can, use intentional modeling, and encourage the parent to engage her child. You know how to do this…but you still feel like it’s a struggle sometimes to stay in your lane.
Okay, true confessions time. The “you” here is actually me. Recently, I’ve been working with some wonderful families and am trying hard to be sure that they have opportunities to practice using intervention strategies. It’s hard, though, when the children behave as if they prefer to play with the biggest new toy in the room – me. I’m pretty good at making kids laugh, keeping their attention, and prompting them for words or actions. Plus, it’s just fun. However, I know that my strengths are not the totality of what’s needed here. Sure, I’m visiting to help the child learn and achieve the outcomes on the IFSP, but that’s not the whole reason I’m there. I absolutely believe that my actions on the visit will make the biggest impact if I use them to help the parent learn strategies she can use when I’m not there. I know what to do…it’s just the implementation part that can be hard.
Here’s the Challenge…
Here’s the challenge – we take what we “know” and “believe” and then have to use it in different homes with different families who have different ways of interacting with one another. They also likely have different understandings of how EI works, different ideas about why their child has a delay, different ideas about what will help, and different expectations for visits. We have to adjust what we do and how we do it to adapt to these differences.
As our field has evolved, we’ve learned that the best way to impact the child’s development is through the parent. We have to find ways to share what we know so the parent can confidently use that information between visits, when we aren’t there. Sure, we can just play with the child while the parent watches and hope he/she “gets” it. Or, we can use the visit to really partner with the parent to develop and practice intervention strategies with the child that match how they learn and interact. We can spend our time together reflecting on what the parent and child do together. We can problem-solve, plan, and practice strategies during the visit to help them achieve their goals. This requires us to stay in our lane – meaning that we remember our roles as coaches, consultants, and supports to parents, not just play partners and “teachers” of children.
4 Strategies to Help You Stay in Your Lane
Here are a few strategies that might help you stay in your lane:
Explain how the practice component of EI works at your first visit – Set the tone for good early intervention by explaining how you will work together with the child. Share your goal of using the visit as a practice session for the parent and child to try out intervention strategies, with your support, so they can use them between visits, when most of the learning will occur. Prepare the parent and she’s more likely to feel comfortable jumping in.
Take time to learn together – Let parents (and children) have time to warm up. Find out what they like to do, what they want help with, how they like to learn, and what is motivating for them. This doesn’t mean that coaching has to wait…but sometimes it might take a few visits before the family is comfortable enough to be coached. During this warm-up time, you both are learning how to work together and that’s okay.
Be intentional – Go into the home with the mindset that you are there to help the parent and the child – not just the child. Be intentional about asking open-ended questions about what’s going well and where the struggles to find out how to help. Look for and seize parent-child interaction opportunities when the parent can practice using an intervention strategy. Be intentional in facilitating interaction, reflecting on it, sharing feedback, problem-solving and planning together.
Stay in your lane – Be mindful of what you’re doing in the moment. Pay attention to where you place yourself, what you do, and how you do it. Use your knowledge and skills to help the parent engage her child. Yes, you will use modeling. Yes, you will playfully engage the child. When you veer out of your coaching lane and find yourself as the biggest toy in the room for too long, swerve back into your lane and refocus.
The truth is that, even with these strategies, every visit is different and some will be awesome, while others will leave you feeling glad you have a do-over next week. We have to be patient with ourselves and with families, remembering that we are partners who are growing and learning together. Walking in the door with the intention to stay in your lane and make room for parents to practice using strategies with their children is a great place to start.
When you’ve swerved out of your lane for too long, what do you do?
How do you keep your focus on facilitating parent-child engagement and practice during your visits?