Okay, when you read that title, maybe you were curious, wondering if you were going to learn about three new discoveries that will make your job easier. Or, maybe you did a quick eyeroll, thinking “Here we go, the next big ‘thing’ that I need to do.” Either way, I’m glad you’re here. While I’m not sure that these three interventions will make your job easier, I do think they can make your work more effective. No, these interventions aren’t new or the next big “thing,” but they are based on the evidence we have about what early interventionists do that has a positive impact on child and family outcomes – meaning child development is enhanced, children learn and participate in everyday activities, families understand how to help their children, and quality of life is improved. One of the key aspects of these three interventions is YOU – how you interact with families and what you do to support parent-child interaction. You are a key, so read on and learn what you can do on your next visit to have that positive impact.
Here we go. Interventions that:
- Emphasize caregivers’ awareness and interpretation of their own actions,
- Help caregivers identify and use everyday learning opportunities to enhance child development, and
- Support caregivers’ responsiveness to their children
have been found to be most effective in positively impacting child outcomes (Dunst & Trivette, 2009; Mahoney, 2009; Swanson, Raab, & Dunst, 2011). That’s big stuff. In this post, I’ll tackle what the first intervention looks like in practice. I’ll discuss the other two interventions in Parts 2 and 3.
Emphasize Caregivers’ Awareness and Interpretation of their own Actions
When you implement this intervention, you go deeper than just modeling or teaching caregivers intervention strategies. You approach intervention from the perspective of expanding how the caregiver thinks about her (or his) capabilities, her impact on her child’s development, and the positive effects of her everyday interactions with her child. Some caregivers come to EI already embracing their influence as the parent, but many are in the vulnerable position of being a new parent or a parent of a child with strengths and needs that are different from what they expected or previously experienced with other children. Early intervention can be a new window through which to see a child’s potentialities, and we can open that window with how we approach the support we provide.
I truly believe that it’s not enough to tell families that “you are the expert on your child.” Those can be empty words if we don’t back them up with support that builds on what caregivers already know and do. We need to convey, through practice and intentional interactions, that the parent is just the right person to help her child grow and learn, she is enough, and what she does really matters. She may not have entered the program knowing how to stretch her child, how to prompt her child to increase vocabulary, how to teach her child to sign, or how to regulate herself so that her child learns to manage his emotions – and that’s all okay. We are there to teach, guide, and help the caregiver become aware of, embrace, and learn to interpret the link between her actions and her child’s behaviors, interactions, and learning. That’s a deeper level of engaging families, a level at the core of who a parent is. Full disclosure – I don’t think this is easy (often it’s not), but I completely believe that if we walk in the door of every visit with the perspective that we are there to look for opportunities to build the caregiver’s awareness of her own actions and help her learn to interpret that impact, what we do and how we do it changes – for the better.
What Does This LOOK LIKE in Practice?
Here are some strategies I’ve learned from EI practitioners in recent conference sessions where we talked about this intervention:
Use open-ended questions to help the caregiver reflect and think about what she (or he) is doing and why. Ex: What did you notice…? What did you see Jack do when you…? Why do you think that happened?
What did you do differently that time? What could you do differently next time to help Jack learn to…?
Look for moments to build awareness and interpretation. Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to point out those moments when the caregiver interacts with the child in ways that enhances development. Adult learners typically want to know if they are doing something “right” so reinforcing positive interactions helps caregivers know they are on the right track.
Provide specific feedback that points out what the caregiver did, what the child did, and the relationship between the two actions. Help the caregiver make the connection, then ask what she thinks about it. Ex: When you waited before helping Emma stand up, she reached up for the pack ‘n play bar to try to stand herself up. What did you think about that?
Use video recordings to build awareness and interpretation. Record the caregiver using a strategy with her child using her cell phone. Then, watch the video together and process it using reflection and feedback. Share what you notice and ask the caregiver about her observations and feelings. Problem-solve if the strategy or interaction can be tweaked to help the caregiver get closer to her goal for the child. You can also encourage the caregiver to record short videos between visits to watch together during the next visit. These videos can become joint plans and records of progress too, so their value (and the learning opportunity) expands beyond the reflection point that happens during your visit.
Now it’s your turn:
What strategies have you used to build caregivers’ awareness and ability to interpret their own actions? What did this look like on your last visit?
Share your ideas and examples in the comments below!
In Part 2, I’ll dig into the second intervention to explore how to help caregivers identify and use every day learning opportunities…and what to do when this is hard. In the meantime, pay attention to how you build awareness on your next visit. Use this series to help you celebrate when it goes well and problem-solve when you need help. Let’s learn together!
Dunst, C. J., & Trivette, C. M. (2009). Using research evidence to inform and evaluate early childhood intervention practices. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 29(1), 40-52.
Mahoney, G. (2009). Relationship-focused intervention (RFI): Enhancing the role of parents in children’s developmental intervention. International Journal of Early Childhood Special Education, 1(1), 79-94.
Swanson, J., Raab, M., & Dunst, C. J. (2011). Strengthening family capacity to provide young children everyday natural learning opportunities. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 9(1), 66-80.