by Kim Rowe, MA, CCC-SLP
As early interventionists we know all about providing family-centered services. We know that having a child’s family involved and contributing to his treatment plan makes for better outcomes. We know that real changes in the environment, however minor, are real to that child’s trajectory of development and that these are the years to make those changes. We know that we are the ones in the trenches with hands out in comfort as families grieve and hands raised in cheer as they celebrate. We know what our job is, but do we reflect that in our actions everyday?
I know that we don’t have caseloads full of the ready and willing parents, teachers, and daycare providers. It’s real life and we can get hopeless, agitated, and in a rut.
I know, all too well, how easy it can be to ignore the difficult parent and focus in on my target (the child) to get what I need to get done (speech therapy), rather than ask the tough questions of that mother to find out what’s on her heart. I also know too many times I’ve pulled a child into another room to do my session because the daycare providers made it difficult to work in the room with their cleaning and conversations. I know how I can get annoyed with all of the people surrounding a child who aren’t doing what they need to do, according to me.
But then I pause.
I remember that their job is difficult too and that they are doing the very best they can each day. I remember that I need to provide the opportunity for them to trust me and to create a relationship that may spark a new idea, a new behavior, or even a new way of being. I remember that I cannot give up. I know the way forward, because I’ve been there before, but they probably haven’t. It’s my job to be that family’s guide on their journey and to encourage them onward. If I don’t hold hope for them, then I have no business in their lives.
So I choose to carry these three mantras with me into each home and daycare:
1. Be an inspiration.
I want to be a light for each family or daycare provider. I want to do my job so well that they feel like it’s easy and attainable themselves. I want them to smile when I walk in the door because they know while I’m there they are going to see their child shine.
2. Build relationships.
I want moms, dads, grandparents, and daycare providers to trust me. I know that they will not extend themselves to try something new or make real changes if they don’t. I know that every relationship, especially a therapeutic one, is based on trust. I want families to know that I will be honest and transparent. I want them to allow their walls to come down because they believe they will not be judged, but instead supported. I want them to let me into their lives and the life of their baby.
3. Effect Change
I want to be an agent of change. I want to never leave a family unmarked, but I want people to make real and lasting changes because THEY get it. I want to show them the “aha”, the light bulb, the life-changing revelation. I want them to know this is their process, and that I’m just the guide and the cheerleader.
Now, if you’re thinking, “That’s great. Thanks for the cheer. Rah. Rah.” I don’t want to leave you hanging. I want to tell you what’s worked for me, to make these mantras real. Just like in everything else, people can infer your values from your choices.
I choose to:
1) Ask parents to be present.
I do not encourage a parent to leave the room, empty the dishwasher, or take a phone call because I have come to work with their child. Therapy is not break time and I don’t care if the child behaves better when the parent is not around. The fact is that whatever the behavior is, it needs to be dealt with, and that behavior is part of the process that I cannot ignore out of convenience. If I see a child at the daycare, I make every effort to have the parent present as much as possible, during their lunch break, once a month, or at least for the first few sessions. I will be in this child’s life for a short time, but their parents will always be their parents. For all of the effort I put in, I want it to last, and that will happen if I involve the families. So, I keep the parents in the room.
2) Schedule parents into each session.
I begin and end my sessions with family members or daycare providers. At the beginning, we check-in talk about how the homework has been going and I get up to date on any new information, progress, or concerns. At the end, we review strategies and techniques that we covered during the session and together we make a plan for the new homework. If the adults in a child’s life are truly included in every session, they understand this process is for them just as much as the child. So, I make my sessions a family sandwich (with the parents as the bread).
3) Explain everything, then ask everything.
I make it a point to explain to a parent everything I’m suggesting we do and why, in terms that are understandable and manageable to them. I want them to be on the same team as me, working toward the same end. Then, I ask questions, a lot of questions. I ask how they feel about what I say, what they think would be a good plan to work on a new skill, if they think implementing a strategy is doable, and what happened if they didn’t follow up on their homework. So, I make it a goal to have no statement unexplained and no question unasked in order to keep the lines of communication wide open.
Do I carry out all of these choices every single time? No. But I own these choices as part of my values and operate with them as “How I Do Things”. If I need to make an adjustment, I do. Then I come back my mantras as my guiding principles for early intervention to get me back on track.
What are your mantras? How do your choices reflect what you value? What keeps you going, when you have had enough?
Featured Guest Columnist / Organization: Kim Rowe MA, CCC-SLP and Little Stories
Kim is a speech-language pathologist working in early intervention in Savannah, GA. She is Hanen certified and passionate about family-centered services. When she’s not working, Kim enjoys writing at Little Stories, spending time with her husband, volunteering with her therapy dog Charlie, and listening to her daughter’s story unfold as she develops language.