None of us are perfect. We make mistakes. You may say the wrong thing. You may say nothing when you should have said something. You unintentionally hurt someone's feelings. You forget something that was important to the parent. You may have strong feelings or disagree with the choices a family is making. In a personal relationship, one might speak in anger. Sometimes, simply doing your job may be stressful. A parent may be angry or hurt when you enforce the rules of the program (e.g., if you need to report child abuse or neglect) or introduce sensitive issues such as referring a child for a developmental evaluation.
Relationships are important, and we want to maintain them and repair any breaks when there has been a disconnection. Most of us get through these moments with an apology and talking through what happened. Some of us have not grown up experiencing this kind of resolution and lack skills to get past the hurt feelings or anger. Some of us come from families who did not talk about feelings or work through disagreements. We do not always understand parents' values and beliefs or may be unaware of cultural differences in communication. "Best" practices are not always culturally appropriate practices, and it is important to keep in mind that. If language barriers exist, this can intensify frustration. Trust, openness, and a strong working relationship with the parents are critical for the home visitor, and repairing breaks in the relationship may be up to you.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that when you successfully repair a break in the relationship, it becomes stronger.
You may repair stressed relationships by:
- Apologizing and making amends when you have made a mistake.
- Through this process, you are providing the parents with so many wonderful relationship experiences. You are saying:
- I think about you when we are not together.
- I made a mistake and I am comfortable acknowledging it.
- I care about how I make you feel.
- You are important and I should listen to you.
- I can look at our relationship with you.
- I care about how you feel about our relationship.
- I can apologize when I hurt your feelings.
- I can acknowledge when I am wrong.
- Returning to a sensitive topic raised the week before and talking about the parents' feelings when it came up; for example:
- "Last week, we started talking about having Benjy get a developmental evaluation. You got very quiet and even looked a little tearful. I wish I had stopped talking about Benjy then and asked what you were thinking. Now, a week has gone by; would it be okay if I ask about your concerns? How are you feeling about things now? What are your thoughts?"
- In this moment, you are providing the mother with relationship experiences. You are saying:
- I disregarded your feelings.
- My visits are about you, too, not just Benjy.
- If I disappoint you in how we get along, I will come back to you and try to make things better between us.
- I'd also like to encourage you to let me know if I disappoint you in the future.
- It is important to give parents permission to express their disappointment.
In this clip from a 2012 audio conference on setting boundaries in your work with families, consultant Janet Humphreys describes what should happen to repair the relationship when boundaries are crossed.
Voices from the Field: Janet Humphreys
View the transcript
Chapter 11g: Relationship Repair Experience It
Amanda: Does someone, wrote in even, to ask: "Once, a boundary has been crossed, can it be uncrossed or fixed? Janet, what would you say here?
Janet: Well, this can be a tough one, indeed. Again, it's so very essential to have good supervision, good leadership, as well as, those policies in place that promote boundary setting and maintenance to refer back to, as needed, when boundaries are crossed. That close supervision, regular, honest communication throughout the agency, consistent substantiation of a culture of professionalism. An emphasis on the benefits the professional relationships can have and how that impacts the child. And then, of course, as we've mentioned, training that support realigning ethics, not just having them, but realigning them to what it is that we're working with. All of those contribute to a proactive systemic approach that will avoid many boundary violations.
However, when boundaries are crossed, it's so important to provide protection for both parties in the form of assurance that, number one, no negative personnel action will be taken unless, of course, a law has been broken, which is, you know, a whole different story -- but then setting up a safe space for both parties to be heard objectively, as well together with a supervisor. That can be offered, with the intended goal of, again, moving both back into that relationship through the act of facilitative problem solving, with a real big focus on the spirit of learning from each other. And of course, trust of the supervisor has to be in place for this to be successful.
Amanda: I love what you described, because it, really, I think, focuses us on the importance of that relationship and the understanding that those relationships can have those fissures and breaks and issues that need to be addressed, but it's still worth to maintain that relationship whenever that's a possibility for folks. I love that idea.
What important messages do you hear this trainer communicating?
Answers may include:
- Relationships sometimes need repair!
- Openness and honest communication in a program can help staff identify relationship issues and get support in repairing them when necessary.
- It can help to have a third party (e.g., a supervisor) moderate a discussion as staff and families work to repair the relationship.
- Family-staff relationships are so important; it is helpful to repair those relationships whenever possible.
How do you currently repair relationships with families?
Answers may include:
How can you use this trainer's messages to enhance your work around relationship repair?
Answers may include:
Last Updated: October 1, 2019