Let’s get right to the point. You are not trying to engage an infant or toddler on video for 45-60 minutes during your virtual visit. Re-read that last sentence and let it sink in. Take a deep breath in and breathe out any expectation you may have had about playing with the baby you see on video. When we step back and let our anxiety about tele-intervention settle, it’s easier to realize that there is very little chance of a 2-year old interacting with you on video for more than a moment or two – and that’s okay. You can still do early intervention without that interaction when you focus on engaging the parent (or other caregiver) who will then engage the child. If you think about coaching and the Mission of EI, that’s where your focus should be anyway. You’ve probably already been doing this and if not, you can do it now.
Okay, you might be asking yourself: If I’m not interacting with the child, what do I do instead?
Let’s answer that question.
What Do You Do?
Now, more than ever, early interventionists are using their coaching skills to engage parents during virtual visits conducted using video conferencing technologies. Interventionists have been thrust into the world of tele-intervention (you might know it as telepractice or telehealth) with often little preparation or experience. The whole world has shifted and it feels like EI practice has shifted along with it (and they have).
Here’s what hasn’t changed, though: You are still a coach to the parent/caregiver. Your primary mission is to support caregivers so they learn ways to interact with their children during everyday routines and activities to encourage development. Whether you are sitting in their home or yours, you are still a coach. You did not coach the child before tele-intervention; you coached the parent. You probably did spend time playing with and engaging the child, practicing stretches, prompting for sounds, and challenging the child’s problem-solving or social skills. You probably modeled the use of strategies in these activities for the parent. Now, you have to figure out how to let go of your need to directly interact with the child and embrace the golden opportunity you have to support the parent’s learning.
Here are 10 strategies for focusing on parent/caregiver learning during tele-intervention. You can do this!
10 Strategies for Engaging Parents during Tele-Intervention
Before the Visit:
1. Prepare with the parent – Touch base by phone before the virtual visit to discuss technology needs and answer questions. Plan for how to connect, what device the parent will use, and how it will be positioned so the parent can see you and you can observe the parent-child interaction. Plan for how the parent will access the link you will send to the virtual meeting platform. Consider different types of devices and how access might look different (a quick google search for instructions can be helpful if needed).
2. Prepare yourself – Before the virtual visit, collect your thoughts. Remember that you don’t need toys because you are not trying to engage the child. You may need a prop, such as a doll or teddy bear to model movements for the parent, but you can put your bubbles away.
3. Preparing for what to do – Chat with the parent about ideas for what to do during the visit. Be prepared to follow the parent’s lead and let her know she can take you with her in whatever she and her child do during the visit. You can also plan for activities, like if you are going to work together on the child’s feeding or encourage play skills with siblings who are also home. Just like any visit, though, preparing can go right out the window if another opportunity arises or the family needs the visit to go in a different direction. Prepare when you can, but go with the flow when you need to.
During the Visit:
4. Take time to check in – Just like any other visit, touch base on how the family is doing and check in on child progress. This check in time may take longer now and that’s okay. Remember that everyone is adjusting to the new normal so approach this relationship-building time with ease.
5. Use your voice to join in (instead of your body) – Join the activity you planned or search for opportunities based on what you see. Observe that feeding session, watch the siblings play, and use your coaching skills to share your observations, ask reflective questions, and provide verbal guidance on how to use intervention strategies. You have to use your voice to join in so be gentle with your suggestions and always ask the caregiver what she thinks, how it feels, etc.
6. Be descriptive and specific – When you provide guidance, share observations, or give feedback, be specific and describe what you see and what you suggest. Following verbal directions might be harder to process for the parent who is used to watching you, so take it slow and check in frequently.
7. Be flexible – If the visit is a little shorten than usual, that’s okay. Be sure to document why. If what you planned with the parent falls flat, try something else. If you end up discussing development more than observing it, especially on your first visit, that’s okay. Use the “show me…” prompt to move from discussion to observation and support; it’s a great tool on an in-person visit and it’s your best tool now.
8. Keep your focus on the parent, who facilitates learning for the child – This is key. This is also best practice in EI whether you are face-to-face or on video. What you can help the parent practice during the visit with the child is more likely to continue between visits. Use your coaching skills to keep the focus on parent learning, which extends learning to the child.
9. Write down the joint plan – Plan with the parent as you always do, but create a written version of the joint plan at the end or after the visit. Email or text the plan to the parent as a reminder and follow-up on that plan at the start of your next visit.
During and Between Visits:
This last strategy might be the most valuable right now:
10. Cultivate patience for the parent and yourself – Providing intervention this way might feel wobbly nowand that’s okay. Both you and the parent are in the midst of significant change, and not just for the EI visit. Being patient with the family will help them feel comfortable with this new way of interacting with you. Being patient with yourself means giving yourself permission to feel nervous and stumble, laugh about it, learn, pat yourself on the back, and try again next week.
Consider this: Your relationship to early intervention and with the parent has changed because of the pandemic and tele-intervention, but maybe that change is for the better. This way of supporting parents (and children) might make you a better coach. Give it time, approach intervention with openness, and take a deep breath. We will all be okay.
What strategies are you using before or using your tele-intervention visits to engage parents?
What’s working well? What’s challenging you?
Share your tips and experiences in the chat below and let’s support each other. 🙂
For information, videos, webinars, and online training related to tele-intervention, visit these sites:
COVID-19 and EI Tele-Intervention Updates – VA EI Professional Development Center
Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) – ECTA Center
For technology tips and links to video reflections about tele-intervention, check out these posts: