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Taking It Off the Runway… It’s an Interaction Style, Not a Model – A Table Talk Wednesday Recap

Written by Julie Higginbotham, Senior Case Coordinator, Mecklenburg County CDSA

At this month’s Table Talk Wednesday event, we focused on Coaching as an interaction style.  Coaching is a way to interact with families and caregivers that promotes confidence and competence.  In this style of interaction, interventionists are there to really involve and work with the family as they learn new strategies to use when we’re not there, rather than modeling and hoping parents learn enough to carry over into their routines and improve their day.  We were pleased to see some returning faces, as well as some new faces joining us for the first time.  Facilitated by Erin Campbell, OTR/L with Leaps and Bounds, and Joey Bishop-Manton, CDSA Supervisor, the group talked about how, as professionals, our education tended to focus more on theory and a more clinical, treatment-based practice that was more child-focused, rather than looking at the family as a whole in their natural routines and adult learning styles.  Erin commented that, since this interaction style is not taught in school, this movement has been the most impactful thing in her career since getting her degree.  Wow – that’s a big deal!  We know more about the why, and we know now that coaching adds a whole other element to providing supports to children and families, but what does it really look like when we’re in the moment, with the family, with “real parents?”  Here are some of the thoughts the group had about this complex concept….

  • Parents and Professionals all learn in different ways.  We talk a lot about how parents all have different learning styles and how we need to be flexible in how we provide information, but what about providers?  We can’t use the same activities and strategies for every family, and we can’t expect professionals to all take in information the same way and think that it will all just happen on its own.  Everyone is in a different place with this shift in practice, and we need to be reflective in our work to keep heading in the right direction.  Here at EI Excellence, we want to support folks in this journey, and we’ve done that a few ways.  First of all, we have our Intervention Tools and Resources on the site that provide information about the why and the how, as well as ways to self-assess how things are going for you.  Here in Mecklenburg County, we also have our Mentoring program that we have started so you can get more one-on-one support from early interventionists here.  Let us know if you’re interested or if you need additional support – we’re here to help!
  • You can’t put your hands on the child during your visit if you’re coaching the parent? MYTHBUSTER MOMENT!  We talked about the fine line between putting your hands on the child to do more treatment vs. coaching the family by providing intentional modeling, and then encouraging them to give it a try.  As trained professionals, we know a lot about development and how to help children make progress, but it’s not just about that.  We have to meet the family where they are and move forward from there.  Coaching isn’t just about telling people what they need to know, it’s also about helping them come up with some of the answers themselves.  What does that mean?  Not being too quick to give advice or suggestions, but rather talking the family through what they think might work best for them.  There’s nothing worse than seeking out help for your child and having someone give you cookie-cutter suggestions that you’ve already tried.  When we are engaging in joint planning, it shows that we see the parents as truly being the experts on their children, and we are helping them see that, too.  A parent may have a brilliant idea of what they want to do, but they don’t know how to execute it.  That’s where skilled intervention and coaching come in to play.  We may think that something is too hard for a child to try, but because a parent knows her child and puts something out there for the child to do, that child just may rise to the occasion and surprise us all!
  • Celebrate the little things, and families will start to notice and celebrate them, too.  We sometimes are working to support families with children that have some significant needs, and the big picture can be overwhelming.  By really looking at the little things that improve day to day, we can help families reframe what they see and enjoy those moments with their children.  We’re not talking about “good job” or “way to go” – the group agreed that being specific about what the family did and how that made a difference in their routines is a much more meaningful way of encouraging families.  Since we know that parents and caregivers often have their own interaction styles with the same child and also may have their own learning styles, it’s up to us to be supportive of everyone and help everyone feel important, because they are.   The more we point out those things that are genuinely wonderful about how they are interacting with their children, the more confidence the family will have, and the stronger rapport you will have with them.
  • Speaking of rapport.…..  Here it is again – the familiar theme of building a rapport with a family so you can be as useful and functional as possible during your visits.  Starting with the initial referral to early intervention, we need to be working on building the relationship with the family and guiding their expectations of what they will get from the program.  Some families think that we’re there to provide therapy, others think that we’re social workers, and others just don’t know what to think of us when they first get our information.  Taking the time to really focus on routines and encouraging parents and caregivers to recognize their abilities in this process helps them be more involved and engaged once ongoing supports are in place.  Some parents may seem as though they aren’t as inclined to participate in visits, but by asking questions and being interested, you may just hit on one that sparks their interest in being involved.  As we build that trust, we need to make sure that we don’t dump all of our knowledge in their laps and expect them to carry it over – smaller steps and attainable goals are a better fit as we coach families through their routines.  We want to look at the ultimate goal, of course, but we don’t have to tackle it all at once.  You may not even be able to be present for routines that are identified in the IFSP, and that’s OK – not every family is comfortable with having us in their bathrooms or at the dinner table.  That doesn’t mean that we can’t talk about it and use our observations to talk about how things can be carried over somewhere else.  When you pull out that IFSP, you are showing that you really are interested in their priorities, and that’s worth a lot in the long run.
  • You can’t just say it, you have to believe it!  This was my favorite statement of the whole Table Talk event.  When talking about early intervention and using coaching tools and concepts, it’s easy to say the words, but harder to implement it and show that you really mean it.  Parents are smart – they’ll know if you don’t believe it.  By giving examples of how a coaching interaction style really makes the bigger difference in the long run, and how parents have so many opportunities that are invaluable to support their children, we can really help parents see the importance of our supports and jump on board with us.  How do you get to the point of believing it?  Well, try it!  Do a little reading (especially since EI Excellence has so much material for you!) and ask some questions.  If we’re going to be building confidence in parents, we have to build confidence in ourselves first.

Coaching as an interaction style is a vital component of early intervention because it truly allows us to involve parents and put them first in the process.  I heard a great analogy the other day – a coaching model is like watching a professional tennis player go through the motions and explain what he’s doing, then turn around and have to go into a match to win on our own.  Coaching as an interaction style really puts parents into the position of being able to start with what they know and build from there to help make their own routines even better.

We continue to be impressed and excited by all of the interest and participation from our local professionals – our next Table Talk Wednesday event is on November 20, 2013, and we’ll be talking about “Da Plan, Da Plan,” or how to really engage in more joint planning with families.  Hope to see you there!!


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