course name

Module 4: Conversation

Conversation Examples with Diana and Max

Good Conversation

Diana: We see him climb around here all the time. What do you see at home?
Max: Oh, the same. Actually, I started putting the sofa cushions on the floor for him.
Diana: You figured out a safe way for him to climb at home. Max: Yeah. And it stops him from climbing on the couch so much, because I don't want him to fall over the back.

Coach Feedback: You started the conversation by describing Ben's behavior and that was a highly effective relationship-based practice. The Strengths-based Attitude that Max is your partner with a critical role in his son's development was evident when you merely reflected back in time to when Max shared the story of his son's first steps.

Diana: When you tell us what you see at home, it helps us to know what we might expect here. He really does keep us on our toes! We keep a close eye on him, and hearing from you will help us know what to look for.
Max: Oh, yeah; you have to watch him like a hawk.

Coach Feedback: With just a few comments, you've masterfully operated from a strengths-based attitude that Max is your partner with a critical role in helping you understand Ben; and thereby, you've applied the Relationship-Based Practice of supporting Max's competence.

Diana: As much as we watch Ben, we still need your help to understand him more.
Max: Mhmm. What do you need to know? Have I not been helping enough?
Diana: Oh, you've helped so much! I just mean that there may be ways Ben is trying to communicate at home that we aren't aware of here. So we'd love for you to continue to share what you discover and let us know how to better work with him and understand how he communicates his needs.
Max: Yeah, alright.

Coach Feedback: Your attitude of wanting help from Max was certainly Strengths-Based and conveyed that you feel he has expertise to share. Sometimes parents react to us in ways that we cannot predict. You navigated this disconnect well by tending to your relationship and repairing the disruption with additional Strengths-Based Attitudes. Specifically, you recovered by strongly conveying your premise that Families are the first and most important teachers of their children.

Diana:There are some activities you can try at home that might help us all get a clear picture of where Ben is right now; including his skills at home.
Max: Like, tests?
Diana: No. We actually have a questionnaire that's full of activities we ask parents to do with their kids. And some questions about what you observe in general. It just helps us see what a child is doing at their current age; and helps us track their development together.
Max: What do you mean? Is it just... ideas for playing?
Diana: He'll probably find it fun! It's just a list of activities, and you can help us see which ones he's able to do at this age.
Max: Able to do? Can't you see for yourselves what he's able to do?
Diana: Yes, we do see a lot. But I know there are probably things that only you can see, so we really need your help to make sure we're getting the full picture.
Max: Makes sense.

Coach Feedback: Different programs might have different ways of screening, but collaboration with the parent is critical no matter what. By using language such as "...helping us...", you convey the attitude that you value your partnership with Max. However, there are likely other choices you could have made that were stronger examples of applying the Relationship-Based Practices and Strengths-Based Attitudes. Max is fairly minimally engaged in this portion of the discussion, perhaps because Diana is leading so much of the process here.

Diana: May I show you the list? It's right here.
Max: Uh-huh. And you just want us to do these activities and fill it out?
Diana: Yes. These are the different areas of skills we'd like to get your input on. Would you be willing to try them with Ben?
Max: Yeah, for sure! Diana:And then we could look at it together so we could understand him better; and see if I'm seeing the same things that you get a chance to see.
Max: Okay, I'll find a time to do this with Ben. Maybe it'll be fun!

Coach Feedback: Asking Max's permission before proceeding with the process seemed like it worked well with him. He appears comfortable and happy to move ahead in participating actively in the screening process. You truly reflected on Max's perspective in deciding how to proceed.

[One week later]

Diana: Thanks for bringing the developmental screening form back in, Max. I looked it over as soon as I had my break. Can we go through it together, too?
Max: Uh huh.
Diana: Can we do that now? Or when would be good for you?
Max: Now is fine. I'd like to talk about it.

Coach Feedback: Asking Max's permission with how and when to proceed is working well to engage him in the process. It's a powerful way of conveying just how important it is to you to think about his perspective.

Diana: So, what did you think of the activities?
Max: Ben really liked some of them, like the active parts.
Diana: That's your Ben! I noticed that, too. The motor skills activities showed the strongest development right now, based on what you wrote. That probably doesn't surprise you, though.
Max: No surprise there. (pause) I was surprised at some of the other things, though.

Coach Feedback: Acknowledging "your Ben" both focuses on Max's relationship with his son as well as values his passion. You were careful to reference what Max wrote in a manner that conveyed your value of his expertise.

Diana: Which things surprised you?
Max: Well, like asking him to follow instructions with different steps. I never do that.
Diana: So there were some activities that were different than the kinds of things you might typically do with him. So what was it like trying that kind of activity?
Max: He sort of ignored me.
Diana: And that surprised you.
Max: Well, no. I've never asked him to do it before.
Diana: What did he do when you tried? Can you describe it?
Max: I asked him to get his cup and put it in the sink. He picked up his cup, but then he gave it to me instead of putting it in the sink.
Diana: Max, this screener is going to be so helpful for us here. Getting your observations about Ben is one of the best ways for us to get to know him.
Max: It was pretty fun actually, so I'm glad it helps.
Diana: It does. And I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for some of the things you mentioned about his use of words.
Max: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it was helpful for me, too. I hadn't really thought that much about his talking... since, you know, I understand what he needs either way. It's not really something I worry about.

Coach Feedback: Notice how engaged Max is now in the process of observing his son and understanding more about his son's development. Your choice to honor the importance of Max's input is such a valuable tool in engaging Max in this process.

Diana: I'm not surprised you know what he needs. So you feel that his amount of speech is just fine.
Max: Well, I don't know about speech. But I just mean, I know what he needs without him having to use a lot of words.
Diana: Okay. I see what you mean. This is really helpful. How about we both pay a little extra attention to his speaking for the next few days and then get together again to compare notes?
Max: Okay. I'll pay attention at home.
Diana: Great, we'll put our heads together on this soon. Thanks, Max!

[Time passes]

Diana: Hi Max! How's the week going? What've you guys been doing together?
Max: Mostly getting outside, now that the weather's nice.
Diana: Ah, one of Ben's favorite things, right?
Max: Yup, and now that he's running I have to keep up! It's so different from this time last year. He's been running around outside so much, he doesn't even want to get in the stroller!
Diana: So what else have you been noticing? I know you and I wanted to talk more about what you're observing with his speech.
Max: I've been paying attention to that -- here and at home, too.
Diana: I appreciate that. What have you noticed?
Max: I've been really listening to him and paying attention to the other kids, too. So many of them really are talking... I hear them with their moms or dads at welcome time in the mornings. Like even in sentences and stuff. Ben doesn't do anything like that.

Coach Feedback: Notice how engaged Max is each time Diana focuses on the father-son relationship; and how smoothly that allows a lead-in to her being able to ask open-ended questions about what Max, in his expertise, has been observing. This is evidence of how well the Strengths-based Attitudes and Relationship-based Practices have been working.

Diana: It sounds like you're noticing similar things at home to what we're seeing here. And, even though we expect each child to have their own pace, we want to make sure Ben gets any support you think he might need. Especially if there's something where extra support would go a long way.
Max: It's really a big difference, though... how much more the other kids are talking.
Diana: So what are you thinking about his speech then?
Max: I don't know what to make of it. I mean my mom—she says he'll be fine, that boys just talk later.
Diana: And what do you think?
Max: Well, look, I see the other boys here. They're talking more than Ben. And, you know what... now I'm worried. I mean, even if he does come around, the other kids are able to talk to each other in ways that Ben can't.

Coach Feedback: Opening by asking specifically what Max is thinking about Ben's speech reflects your practice of the SBAs and RBPs. And Max is responding with such trust and openness to thinking this through with Diana. This is a strong partnership that has allowed Max to gradually come to his own observations and concerns about his son. He is not so overwhelmed that he cannot bear to think about Ben with concern. Instead, he is open to the process.

Diana: Well, there are things we can do together. That's why I wanted your help observing him and telling us what you see. Now that we know what you're thinking about this, we can work together to focus more on his speech.
Max: Like, here?
Diana: Yes, we'll work on it here. You think of a few things to try and we'll think of a few things... we'll put our heads together.
Max: Okay, sure. I mean, I do talk to him a lot already. I think that helps.
Diana: Yes; we've seen that it does. I know we've talked before about how important your relationship with Ben's pediatrician is. I was wondering if, together, we could plan for a way to talk to Ben's pediatrician about his developmental screener. Ben's two-year check-up is coming up soon, right? Having a conversation with the doctor would get us some guidance about speech; some guidance and direction.
Max: I would be open to doing that. I've had conversations with her about Ben's development in the past that were helpful.
Diana: Sure. For example, the doctor could connect us with the Early Intervention program to get a better picture of what is going on with Ben. Have you heard of that?
Max: No, what's that?
Diana: Ben's not the first child here who's had stronger skills in areas other than speech. I know other children who've had some extra support from a program called Early Intervention. It's a group of providers who can offer guidance to support different areas of development; such as in speech. If Ben were found eligible, they could provide speech services both here and at home. They would be able to give some extra attention to Ben's speech and give us suggestions on what to try with him to help him to use his words.
Max: So they could come to both places. And show us how to help him.
Diana: Exactly. You said it's important to you that he become able to talk back and forth with you and with other people. You could tell the speech provider from Early Intervention if that's your goal for Ben and then they could figure out a plan with you and us here to support Ben. How does that sound?
Max: Yeah. I think... if it would be good for him then... I'll make sure to ask about it. Thanks for the heads up.
Diana: In the meantime, there are some things we've learned to offer to children that can help with language development.
Max: Yeah? Like what?
Diana: Well, let's think about words you think are especially important for him to know...

Coach Feedback: It was key that you chose a sequence in which you valued Max's passion by referring back to Max's goal of Ben developing the ability to talk back and forth with other people. This use of descriptions of specific child behaviors helps to keep the conversation focused on this specific child and the family relationship. When we choose to anchor our comments in something that a parent has already shared with us in a moment of vulnerability, the parent feels truly heard, valued as the child's first and most important teacher, and seen as in charge of the process. This is critical to the parent not feeling out of control, which could backfire and have a parent disengage. Your choice is a strong representation of the SBAs and RBPs.

End Conversation: Success

Weak Conversation

Diana:"Loves to climb" is an understatement. Seems like that's all he wants to do sometimes!
Max: Oh... is that bad?
Diane: No, no. Every child develops their skills differently, and it helps when we can learn what each child likes to do most.
Max: Well he's definitely on the move. But he runs out of steam eventually… and he always seems to respond to me. He knows to stop climbing when I say, "no."

Coach Feedback: This observation contained a judgement ("that's all he wants to do"). Max reacted far less defensively when you spoke about how helpful it is when we can learn what each child likes to do most. When you're sharing an observation of a child's behavior, keeping it neutral allows the parent space to express their own interpretation.

Diana: We see Ben moving around so much, but I have to admit I'm worried he isn't working on other skills.
Max:What do you mean? Isn't that normal for kids his age?
Diana: Well, yes, sometimes. But it has the potential to become a concern.
MAX THOUGHT: Jeez, it seems a little early to be worrying about that.

Coach Feedback: Even if we have real concerns about a child, how we bring it up with a parent makes all the difference in how the parent joins us in making sense of their child's behavior. If we assume that the behavior we see is the same as it is at home, we might miss something critical to understanding the child. Instead, it's more productive and less leading to invite the parent to share their observations first. This also can assist us with our own anxiety in bringing things up with parents. For example, choosing to state our worry first might feel genuine and truthful and help us to feel like we are getting to where we need to go with a parent, yet it can overwhelm a parent and work against trying to engage them.

Diana: We're doing our best to help him here, and we need you to do your part at home.
Max: What do you mean?
Diana: Oh, I'm just talking about how important it is for both of us to work together to help Ben--here and at home.
Max: (annoyed, hurt) You don't think I'm already doing that?
Diana: Of course you are! I'm sorry if it sounded otherwise. What I mean is... there are certain things we ask parents to do at home that can help us here. And you of course can ask of us.
Max: (nods silently)

Coach Feedback: Here's another segment when we learn so much from a parent's reaction to our choice of words! Max became offended by the implication that he "needs to do his part at home". You then tried to recover by directly apologizing and treating Max as your partner as a means of tending to your relationship with him. The interaction will still need more repair, but your willingness to consider Max's perspective sure will help.

Diana: I'm glad we're talking about this, because there's a questionnaire I'd like you to fill out about Ben's skills.
Max: What do you mean?
Diana: Oh, we just have a questionnaire that we give to parents. It helps us check in on the kids, see how they're developing. I thought maybe you could do it with Ben.
Max: Couldn't you just do it here? I mean, I'll do it but... whatever.

Coach Feedback: Emphasizing the paperwork aspect has made Max uncomfortable. Just assigning it to him also made him defensive and less engaged. The more Max is interested in building shared goals through a collaborative effort, the more helpful the results will be for you and Max; now and to track developmental trends over time. Notice how choosing to introduce the screener "I'd like you to…." did not invite Max into a collaborative process and partnership.

Diana: I'll stick the developmental screening form in his cubby for you to pick up later this week. Just fill it out when you get a chance; the instructions are pretty easy to follow.
Max: Umm. Okay...

Coach Feedback: Max's "umm" shows his hesitance. He might not look at the screening tool at all-- we don't get a sense from his reaction that he is engaged. Passively placing the form in Ben's cubby does not invite Max into a collaborative process with you. To build collaboration and engage Max, try looking at the screener together. Press Continue to show him the tool directly.

(One week later...)

Diana: Thanks for bringing the developmental screening form back in, Max. I looked it over as soon as I had my break. Can we go through it together, too?
Max: Uh huh.
Diana: Can we do that now? Or when would be good for you?
Max: Now is fine. I'd like to talk about it.

Coach Feedback: Asking Max's permission with how and when to proceed is working well to engage him in the process. It's a powerful way of conveying just how important it is to you to think about his perspective.

Diana: Did you notice anything… concerning while you were doing the activities with Ben?
Max: Concerning? No, not really.

Coach Feedback: This question led from a deficit approach to understanding Ben, and Max didn't really answer. Asking more neutral questions about Max's observations are likely to be more effective.

Diana: I think you should be paying close attention to his speech at home.
Max: (defensive) Yeah, I do.
Max Thought: Maybe if you paid closer attention to him here you wouldn't need me to do your job for you.

Coach Feedback: Consider why Max might be feeling defensive. It is tempting for us to think of parents as "being in denial" when they don't see the same concerns as we do. And this might even prompt us to say things that manage to convey that we don't think they are open or careful enough in their observations.

Diana: So with everything we've talked about, what do you want to do next with Ben?
Max: I'm not sure, really. But doing those activities with Ben… it definitely made me think about what he's able to do. I feel like I'm learning so much about him. I think I might just start paying closer attention to his words for a while.
Diana: And we can keep talking together; and, like you, we can pay closer attention to that here, too.
Max: Yeah, yeah. That would definitely help.
Diana: Great, we'll put our heads together on this soon. Thanks, Max!

(Time pass)

Diana: Hi Max! How's the week going? What've you guys been doing together?
Max: Mostly getting outside, now that the weather's nice.
Diana: Ah, one of Ben's favorite things, right?
Max: Yup, and now that he's running I have to keep up! It's so different from this time last year. He's been running around outside so much, he doesn't even want to get in the stroller!
Diana: Are you getting more "hugging" time in?
Max: Yeah, but now I have to catch him to hug him!
Diana: I bet he loves that! And I bet he runs to you for hugs even faster now! So what else have you been noticing? I know you and I wanted to talk more about what you're observing with his speech.
Max: I've been paying attention to that -- here and at home, too.
Diana: I appreciate that. What have you noticed?
Max: I've been really listening to him and paying attention to the other kids, too. So many of them really are talking... I hear them with their moms or dads at welcome time in the mornings. Like even in sentences and stuff. Ben doesn't do anything like that.

Coach Feedback: Notice how engaged Max is each time Diana focuses on the father-son relationship; and how smoothly that allows a lead-in to her being able to ask open-ended questions about what Max, in his expertise, has been observing. This is evidence of how well the Strengths-based Attitudes and Relationship-based Practices have been working.

Diana: Yeah, I had noticed Ben's speech before. I guess I was hoping he was talking more at home.
Max: (defensive) Well he's not. I mean, that's what I was trying to say on the form you gave me.

Coach Feedback: While it was possible that Ben was speaking more at home, showing personal disappointment might feel like a genuine reflection of Diana's perspective, yet the point of being aware of our own perspective is to help us not act on it so bluntly. Max has disengaged from the partnership even though he had already volunteered his own concern and has provided examples of Ben's speech both here and at home. Try not to insert your own opinion, and instead use neutral observations and questions.

Diana: Max, I spoke to my director about Ben, and she thinks we're right to be concerned.
Max: Wait, you talked to your boss about Ben? How well does she even know him?
Diana: Well she works with all of us at the center, so I just shared with her…
Max: I don't really care what she thinks, to be honest. I thought you and I were working on this together. No offense to your boss, but I don't think we need someone who doesn't even know Ben giving their opinion.

Coach Feedback: Reflecting upon your own perspective might have led you to want the back-up of having the director (or a co-worker) agree with you about your concern, and maybe even feel like it will be more comfortable for you to have this difficult part of the conversation if you can cite someone else who agrees with you. Yet, reflecting on the parent's perspective as well could help keep your perspective from becoming overwhelming to the parent, as it did in this case with Max.

Diana: I know we've talked before about how important your relationship with Ben's pediatrician is. I was wondering if, together, we could plan for a way to talk to Ben's pediatrician about his developmental screener. Ben's two-year check-up is coming up soon, right? Having a conversation with the doctor would get us some guidance about speech; some guidance and direction.
Max: I would be open to doing that. I've had conversations with her about Ben's development in the past that were helpful.
Diana: Sure. For example, the doctor could connect us with the Early Intervention program to get a better picture of what is going on with Ben. Have you heard of that?
Max: No, what's that? Diana: So, Early Intervention is a program that teaches parents what they can be doing to help their child learn more of the skills that they need. They have a lot of different specialists who know so much about development... and they can even come into your home and teach you what to do.
Max: Woah, what? That sounds like way too much. I don't need someone to come to my house and tell me how to raise my son.

Coach Feedback: What are you thinking about Max's emotional response right now? Diana's description of EI is technically accurate. However, the emphasis on parents needing teaching about what to do seemed to imply to Max that he didn't know how to help Ben himself. Press "Continue" to hear an explanation of Early Intervention that is more child-focused and inclusive of the parent.

Diana: Ben's not the first child here who's had stronger skills in areas other than speech. I know other children who've had some extra support from a program called Early Intervention. It's a group of providers who can offer guidance to support different areas of development; such as in speech. If Ben were found eligible, they could provide speech services both here and at home. They would be able to give some extra attention to Ben's speech and give us suggestions on what to try with him to help him to use his words.
Max: So they could come to both places. And show us how to help him.
Diana: Exactly. You said it's important to you that he become able to talk back and forth with you and with other people. You could tell the speech provider from Early Intervention if that's your goal for Ben and then they could figure out a plan with you and us here to support Ben. How does that sound?
Max: Yeah. I think... if it would be good for him then... I'll make sure to ask about it. Thanks for the heads up.
Diana: In the meantime, there are some things we've learned to offer to children that can help with language development.
Max: Yeah? Like what?
Diana: Well, let's think about words you think are especially important for him to know...

End Conversation: Success

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