Written by Julie Higginbotham, Senior Case Coordinator, Mecklenburg County CDSA
Oh, the weather outside is….well…pretty mild, but getting cooler here in Mecklenburg County! We got together for our Table Talk Wednesday event last month to talk about EI for the Holidays, and our facilitators were ready with a great frame-up for us. Lennie Latham, Program Supervisor and CBRS Provider with Easter Seals UCP, and Tami Dietz, Unit Supervisor at the CDSA, set this up for us for a few reasons. First of all, it’s a HUGE topic! Second of all, we had a great discussion about potential issues with Crossing Boundaries around this time of year, so how could we address these upcoming weeks from a different perspective? Read on to see how we did it…
- “What do we buy?” For many families, this is a time of year when they are buying gifts for their children, and we are often asked what toys should be on their lists. One person said that we don’t give a list of ideas anymore (I hope!), but what should we do now? We need to be thinking about our supports outside of meeting developmental milestones in general, so why not take advantage of this moment to look outside of the gift-wrapped box to see what else you can explore with the family? Talking to families about their priorities could lead to some specific toys they decide they want to purchase, but we have to be careful how and when we share information. After all, they may want to buy their child something that’s just fun and not connected to anything other than fun.
- How do families celebrate holidays, if at all? Have you ever had a Cringe-Worthy moment with a family where you made an assumption that didn’t quite hit the mark? While we always need to be considering families’ unique cultures, the holidays bring about opportunities to build on our relationships by gathering information about what will be happening in families’ lives over the next several weeks. I didn’t say celebrating the holidays because they might not be doing that in the same way you do, or even at all. The group talked about how we might be sensitive to families’ priorities during this time of year, and here were some ideas:
- Ask about what is important for you to know about their family and culture that will help you get to know them better and tailor your support to meet their unique needs. Every family is different, even the ones that celebrate the same holidays that you do.
- Ask about how the family will be adjusting to any changes, including having siblings home for winter break, days off work, travel plans, plans to have visitors, and any general changes in their schedule that might be relevant to include in your plans to address their routines together.
- Ask parents what they want to get out of the holidays, if they are celebrating. There are often bigger-picture priorities outside of what gifts to give that can really change the course of your conversation with them.
- When families will have changes to their routines, what should we consider? Planning for this time of year is important, and not just because our schedules might be changing. When we think about how we’re partnering with families and making those joint plans, are we talking about upcoming changes that will affect the child and family? For example, one child may struggle with the sensory overload that can come with holiday parties and having more people in his space. Add the potential change in family routines, and you have a fantastic conversation ready to be had so that family can think about strategies to make it a more pleasant experience. Another family may still be in the NICU or newly discharged from home – how is that going to look for them, particularly if they’re trying to balance family time with keeping their little one safe and healthy? One person even noted that the upcoming changes may present opportunities for progress for some children simply because they’re new and interesting. There are lots of great conversations you can have that can drive your next several visits with families and have a big impact on how the next several weeks play out for them.
- What if the holidays aren’t a happy time for families? I really appreciated this part of the conversation because it’s all too easy to focus on the happiness and excitement when that’s maybe not what the family is feeling. Extended family may have good intentions as they ask about a child’s progress (or lack thereof), new behaviors, picky eating, or even the way the parent is addressing these or any other needs. Our role may be just to help parents think through what they want to say and how to address their feelings about it all. Some families may not have pleasant memories of the holidays, and others may be just trying to make it one day to the next. One person mentioned children who have been moved to foster care around the holidays – there’s a lot to address in that move alone, much more when we’re considering the family aspect of holidays. How we have these conversations is important because we’re not there to make it better, but we can help families feel better prepared.
- How do we address resource needs? As we’ve been working on how we’re using reflective questions with families, this conversation is one of the hardest for us to navigate. When a family says that they have a resource need, it’s so hard not to just lay it all out there, particularly when families just want their kids to enjoy the holidays. We have to remember, though, that we’re there to help support their abilities to support their children, and this is no exception. Just because we have the info doesn’t mean that every family even wants it. Consider, too, that community resources are extremely finite – how do you talk about it then? One attendee mentioned that financial stressors can affect services as some families are trying to balance paying for services with holiday purchases. We want to help think through resources families already have available and talk about their ultimate goals moving forward. Check out these Roadmaps to help guide your conversation with families around meeting different needs. The Family Resource Support Guide has more detailed information with an attached tool you can use, too.
EI for the Holidays brings so many opportunities to build our relationships with families. We get to find out a little more about what makes them the dynamic family that they are, and we get a chance to help address some of the things that they see coming up in their routines. Think about it – if we’re asking questions and intentionally listening for priorities, joint planning with families to help them figure out how they want to address the upcoming months is so much easier and functional for the family. Remember, though – you don’t have to wait until your schedule is about to change, and you’re not just planning for you.
We’re taking a break in December, but join us on January 20, 2016 (!!!) when we open up the conversation some more about supporting families as mandated reporters. So, You Have To Make The Call…..