5 Strategies to Increase Parental Engagement

I have the special privilege to enter my client’s home and directly help the family care for their child with special needs.  I am absolutely in awe of the babies I work with and amazed at the families’ creativity and hard work to help their babies succeed and grow.  However, it is a delicate balance to get to this point.  We as therapists are entering the family’s home and we instinctively want to fix everything.  We have many years of education and are taught theory, therapeutic techniques, details of the human anatomy and many other things, but this does not help us if we cannot get the parents to follow through with our recommendations.  I can sit and offer you all sorts of ideas on how to coach and get the parents engaged but each family is different.  I have found that parent engagement comes naturally once a trusting relationship with the family is established. Here are  5 factors necessary to cultivate the relationship and engage parents in the treatment process:

1) Develop Rapport— I cannot stress how important it is to develop rapport with families.  If they don’t feel they can connect or bond with you as a person, they are not going to follow through with your recommendations.

2) Impart your knowledge— Education is the second step to helping families.  The families are typically scared, overwhelmed and do not know where to start.  They get so much information from the doctors and other providers.   You can alleviate their stress tremendously by helping them understand what is going on with their child.  When the family understands why their child moves a certain way, acts out in large groups, avoids certain types of play, etc. they have a better understanding of not only  how to handle their child but also to prepare their child for certain activities.

3) Utilize Humor–Laughter truly is the best medicine.  Use humor when appropriate when interacting with the family.  It is okay to have fun, be silly and above all less, LAUGH. They are children first; their disability does not define them.  When we are being playful and having fun with the children, the parents relax and will laugh and are more comfortable to join in on the fun.  I always tell parents this is not ‘torture therapy’!  Therapy through play is the best method to incorporate our strategies during the family’s busy day.

4) Be empathic –Families need to understand that we empathize with them.  Families’ schedules are busy with doctor’s appointments, other therapies and maintaining their family routine.  They are trying their best to follow through on what everyone else tells them.   The families need as much support as the children.  When we understand their challenges, we are better able to offer realistic and achievable strategies that they can carry out on a daily basis with their child.

5) Demonstrate Respect— We work with families of all backgrounds, beliefs and cultures.  When we walk into a family’s home, they have trusted us enough to enter their home and for us to continue to stay and make an impact on their lives we need to respect their values, beliefs, cultures and parenting styles and remind ourselves that differences are just that. Once we establish these connections with families, we can do great things together!