Consider bath time for these two families:
Quenton’s bath typically happens right after dinner at about 6:15pm. He has his bath with his older brother each night. Bath time typically lasts a good 30 minutes, time enough for his dad to get both boys washed and then have time to play. Quenton’s father typically plays with the boys or sits back and watches them while they play. It’s a fun ritual at the end of the day that allows everyone to reconnect before bedtime.
Cecily’s bath typically happens around 7:30pm. She, her siblings and her mother get home about 6:00, have dinner, then take baths before bedtime. Cecily typically gets her bath before her two older siblings take theirs. Bath time for the family involves getting three children bathed and dressed for bed in about 40 minutes so that everyone is in bed by 8:30. It’s a necessary routine and a busy one.
Is Bath Time a Good Time for Intervention?
The answer all depends on how the routine actually works for the family. In our eagerness to pour the strategies in our minds into the parent’s head, it can be easy to forget to ask the above question. We can pass along general ideas, such as “Bath time is a great time for working on identifying body parts.” or “At bath time, you could give him choices of what toy he wants to play with,” but are these general ideas really helpful? Maybe not if they aren’t individualized. Definitely not if the family views bath time as a necessary chore that doesn’t afford them much opportunity to interact or address development.
Bath time in Cecily’s family is not wrong, it just IS. Not all routines are equal, which is why it’s so important to ask about a routine first.
What Could Happen When You Ask…
If you asked Quenton’s father, sure he might say that bath time is a great time to support his son’s communication development. OR, he might say that this is a relaxing routine for him and his sons and he really would rather keep it that way.
Cecily’s mother might say “no way,” that bath time is too rushed at the end of a busy day. OR, she might say that she would love to have some ideas because bath time is the only time during the day that she and Cecily get some time alone together.
You won’t know until you ask, and not asking could very likely result in you providing strategies that aren’t helpful. If you ask, then that sets the stage for you and the parent to explore the routine and develop specific strategies together that fit that family’s unique routine.
The same could be said for any common routine that we assume is part of life for families of infants and toddlers. I once provided mealtime suggestions to a family (who had asked for ideas to get the child to eat more), assuming the child sat in the highchair that was parked in the kitchen. After several visits, I realized that the highchair never looked any different, as if it never got used. When I asked about it, I learned that the family ate dinner at the coffee table in the living room and the child typically walked around while he ate. Knowing that, I completely changed my approach to supporting the family because my earlier suggestions were pretty meaningless. We went from me handing out suggestions to me coming at lunchtime to see firsthand how a meal went. Much more meaningful for everyone involved.
Have you had a similar experience with a family routine? What other questions do you ask to find out about how families operate?