Your success in Early Intervention often hinges on your ability to develop trusting and respectful relationships with the families with which you work.1,2
Through years of ups and downs while working in Early Intervention, I have learned and adapted my approach. Here are some tips and tricks I’ve found to be helpful in forming meaningful relationships with my clients and their families:
Failsafe Ways to Build Relationships
Fall in Love with the Child
On day one, acknowledge mom and/or dad with a smile and eye contact as you say hello, but also look and smile at the child to reveal that you are enamored and delighted to be there. Compliment the child immediately making sure to include the parent(s). Showing that you love kids builds immediate trust.
You are an expert in child development. The parent is the expert on their child. Don’t ever forget that. Use family friendly language and honor what they reveal to you.
Learn to listen and stay in the moment. Hear their words, read the body language, don’t plan your responses, instead, reflect back what they said. Only provide input if they ask a question.3
Don’t Be a Doormat
Being flexible does not mean bending so much that your personal life is impacted. Don’t let families use you in ways you were not meant to be used. For example, don’t feel financially obligated to that family. Don’t let them reveal too much about their personal lives. You must set boundaries and let them know your care but your generosity has limits.
Be a Chameleon
Know your audience. I am most comfortable with families with whom I can be mildly sarcastic and casual. Not all families appreciate that side of me. I have to adjust my style based on their comfort level. It is not about me. Sometimes it is hard, but I must conform to gain the trust and respect I need to provide the best intervention for that family.
Never assume you know anything – clarify everything, be specific, and never pretend you know something you don’t.
Be Real but Avoid Friendship
I always share personal stories with families because I know that it builds trust. If the family knows that I struggle with parenting or life circumstances just like them, they will trust me in times that I am asking them to step outside of their comfort zone. However, this sharing cannot exist outside of the intervention. Decline invitations to parties and social media. Keep it as professional as possible.
It is an honor to work with families in the intimate setting of their homes. I enjoy each family for different reasons. Each unique experience teaches me so much, including how to be a better parent, person, and teacher. I cherish my families and know that, although EI can be taxing on emotions, with each new “hello” my life and career will improve.
- Moore, T, The nature and role of relationships in early childhood intervention services. Second Conference of the International Society on Early Intervention, Zagreb, Croatia, June 14-16, 2007. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.523.1922&rep=rep1&type=pdf
- National Center on Parent, Family and Community. The Family Partnership Process: Engaging and Goal-Setting With Families. https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/tta-system/family/docs/engaging-and-goal-setting-with-families.pdf