Monday, July 18, 2016

MENTAL SHIFT 5: Passing Judgment on Parents is a Self-FulfillingProphecy

Perhaps nothing characterizes a family-centered approach to early intervention more than being nonjudgmental. This characteristic is not just about early intervention of course: It is central to the idea of inclusion and acceptance.
Stockholm 2016

What behaviors or attitudes of parents might lead an early interventionist to pass judgment? The categories could be (a) parenting, (b) lifestyle, (c) so-called personality, and (d) implementation of interventions.

Parenting. Early intervention is essentially a parenting program, so, when parents engage in parenting behaviors that early interventionists might think are ineffective or even bad, it seems almost part of the job to do something about it. Ineffective parenting might be getting the timing wrong on reinforcing a child's behaviors, behavior management strategies that actually reinforce the behaviors parents don't want, or giving children tasks too difficult for the child's developmental level. Many other examples exist. "Bad" parenting might be things we know are not good for kids, either from research or from our own professional experience. These things might be corporal punishment, poor feeding, and providing the child with a physically unhealthy environment. One of the mantras of the Routines-Based Model is We have an ethical obligation to provide parents with information. If we see parents engaging in ineffective parenting and we have information that would help them meet their own goals, we should give the information to them. Meeting their own goals is important. For example, if the parents let the children graze all day, you might know this could cause a problem at meal time and, possibly, lead to obesity. Should you say anything? As always, begin with a question, such as, "Is it OK with you that he grazes all day?" If the parent gives an answer that essentially indicates yes, you can follow it up with, "Do you have any problems with his eating his meals?" If the parent says yes, you have the opening to provide information about the problems with grazing. If the parent says no, just be patient. An opening might come up later. It could be that the child causes a mess when grazing, for example. There's your opening.

Lifestyle. Parents in early intervention might lead their lives very differently from the early interventionist. They might be messy or neat freaks. They might spend all their time in front of the television or they might be constantly on the go. They might be loud and raucous or they might be quiet and withdrawn. They might be rich or they might be poor. Any deviance from the early interventionist's own way of life could lead to judgment on the part of the professional.

Personality. Parents might have behavior patterns in their interactions with others (i.e., a "personality") that's difficult for the early interventionist to deal with. Some parents are friendly, others are withdrawn. Some are sarcastic, others are sugar-sweet. Some are rough around the edges, others are cultured. Some are bitter, others are happy. This is where reframing is particularly helpful.

Withdrawn = thoughtful
Sarcastic = funny
Rough around the edges = down to earth
Bitter = cautious

Implementation of interventions. Perhaps nothing irks an early interventionist more than parents who don't implement interventions the professional thought the parent was going to implement. In the Routines-Based Model, we professionals take responsibility for that situation. We must not have arrived, jointly with the parent, at a feasible intervention. So we need to ask more questions, working with the parent to find out whether the parent really wants to work on that problem and, if so, what other solutions might work. By taking responsibility, we quickly avoid passing judgment on the parent.

Is it acceptable to pass judgment internally as long as I don't act on it? To some extent, acting nonjudgmental is what's important. By continuing to practice nonjudgmental behavior, the mind can follow: You will become less judgmental. On the other hand, if you harbor judgment about a parent, even if you don't say anything, the parent might sense it. The pursed lips, the lack of response, the tone of voice.... Parents are smart: They'll pick up on it. Understanding that we can't tell people how to think, we are left with guidance about how to speak and write about families, not to mention how we work with them. I'm reminded about the privilege I had of working at the Family, Infant and Preschool Program (FIPP) in Morganton, NC, in the mid-1980s, when Carl Dunst was the Director. The culture of the program was such that no one said negative things about families, even back at the office. Our peers would correct us if we used judgmental language, such as saying a parent was in denial.

The relationship with the parent gives you leeway. Our language is perceived as judgmental, in part because of how we say things but also because of a lack of trust. If the parent hasn't developed a good relationship with us and we say something--even just ask a question--the parent might think we're passing judgment. But if we're like a friend to the parent, the very same statement or question is perceived as a friendly, helpful gesture, because the parent trusts us. It's another reason to work always on building and maintaining a positive relationship with the family. Furthermore, if we really like the family, we are less likely to be judgmental, so the positive cycle of nonjudgmental behavior is enhanced.