We all have times when we leave visits feeling like it went great because we were able to successfully engage the caregiver. Other times, we leave visits feeling defeated and wondering what we could have done differently or if the caregiver may not be completely on board with early intervention yet. Honestly, there are a multitude of reasons we make this assumption and it may be far from the truth. Maybe we need to listen better, build a stronger rapport, or simply do a better job providing information by being more intentional and reflective with the caregiver about his or her beliefs and interactions with the child. Caregivers are equipped with their own knowledge and expectations of the world (and early intervention) and we have to respect that as we provide support. With that said, we also want to help caregivers learn so that they can use intervention strategies successfully with their children. This can be a careful dance.
Creating Cognitive Dissonance
This is where we bring in our secret weapon as we help caregivers reflect on (and possibly change) how they promote their child’s development. One strategy we can use to facilitate this reflection is called creating cognitive dissonance.
Learn more about cognitive dissonance. The article states:
“According to cognitive dissonance theory, there is a tendency for individuals to seek consistency among their cognitions (i.e., beliefs, opinions). When there is an inconsistency between attitudes or behaviors (dissonance), something must change to eliminate the dissonance. In the case of a discrepancy between attitudes and behavior, it is most likely that the attitude will change to accommodate the behavior.”
In other words, cognitive dissonance creates a conflict in your brain where you engage in a behavior that does not reflect your actual beliefs. When people are in a state of cognitive dissonance, there is an urge to resolve the conflict. This happens quite frequently when people are faced with making decisions.
How You Can Create Cognitive Dissonance to Help Caregivers Learn
Let’s visit Natasha to see how she implements this strategy in practice.
Natasha provides services to Christine (mother) and Sebastian (father) and their two-year-old, Isaiah. Isaiah has very few words. He tends to get frustrated frequently which really upsets his parents. Isaiah’s parents have both have expressed the stress it places on them as a family. Natasha has observed Isaiah becoming emotionally overwhelmed when he wants to communicate a message to his parents, but they do not understand him.
Natasha has approached Christine and Sebastian about using sign language. When she brought it up initially, they were adamant against sign language because they want him talking. Natasha wanted to discuss using sign language again, but decided to be more intentional and reflective with Christine and Sebastian. Here is how the conversation went:
Natasha: How are Isaiah’s tantrums today?
Christine: It has been really bad. I know he is trying to tell me something, but it takes me so long to figure out what he wants. By the time I do, he has already spiraled out of control.
Sebastian: Today, he wanted more cereal and we thought he wanted a drink.
Natasha: What do you think is causing these outbursts?
Christine: It is definitely when we do not understand. When I can figure it out right away, he is fine.
Sebastian: It is like he is frustrated when he cannot talk.
Natasha: Tell me if I understand you correctly. He is getting frustrated when you do not understand him.
Christine and Sebastian (simultaneously): Yes!
Natasha: I wonder what we can do to help eliminate some of that frustration while he is building his vocabulary.
Sebastian: I am not sure anymore.
Natasha: I know previously, we talked about using some signs and you were not sure if it would help. Sign language can be a bridge to using words. It is used as a strategy to help reduce frustration so you can understand what Isaiah wants and model the appropriate words. I want to be clear, though, that sign language is always used with words. Once Isaiah is confident using his words, he will stop using the signs because he will replace them with words. It sounds like you really want to reduce his frustration (parent belief?). What would you think about trying a couple signs and seeing how it goes (behavior)?
Christine (pausing in thought): …..I do want to help Isaiah learn to talk.
Sebastian: I guess we were worried he would never talk and only sign.
Christine: I see what you are saying. I think we can try sign language if it will help him.
Natasha: It is something to try. If it does not help, we can try something else.
I am sure many of you have encountered a situation like this. Natasha created cognitive dissonance in her discussion with Christine and Sebastian by having them reflect on their beliefs versus behavior. When we create cognitive dissonance, caregivers must reflect on their beliefs and decide whether or not they will change their behavior.
What are some other situations where creating cognitive dissonance may be helpful?
Add your ideas in the comments below!