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Remotely Support Families and Children – Q&A with Angela Tomlin and Stephan Viehweg

We asked Angela Tomlin and Stephan Viehweg, authors of Tackling the Tough Stuff: A Home Visitor’s Guide to Supporting Families at Risk, about how to best support families when so many of their daily routines have been disrupted.

For more from Tomlin and Viehweg on serving at-risk families during the pandemic, check out a recorded version of their recent webinar, Supporting Families in Uncertain Times.

Q: What are some ways that professionals can remotely support the families and children that they serve during these challenging times?

1) Slow down – PAUSE

Our first suggestion may seem counter intuitive, given the very real need that we have all seen to shift into remote work for safety during the pandemic. This need to change our practices, in combination with significant uncertainty, results in a felt sense of press to “do something” and do it quickly. Instead of giving in to that press, it’s helpful to first slow ourselves down, take a breath, and step back. While we acknowledge that big changes in practice are needed, we also know that the best state for learning and doing new things comes when we activate our reflective self.

2) Be consistent, reliable, and responsive

As you adapt to remote work, remember your skills in maintaining relationships. For example, providers can strengthen their relationship with a family by showing that they are holding the parent and child in mind even when it is not possible to be together. It’s powerful to know that someone is thinking about you while you are apart. Texts and other communications in between remote visits can demonstrate interest and caring. As always, being on time for remote sessions, recalling previous conversations, and bringing promised information or resources makes clear your commitment.

3) Listen to understand

As we connect via phone or online video platforms with families who have also been experiencing stress and uncertainty, we may find that parents may have a strong need to talk. Often these conversations center on experiences during the pandemic. More recently, some may need to speak about demonstrations that are happening in many of our cities. Giving a parent space to speak about what they have experienced, seen, and heard can seem far from our professional role. It’s helpful to see that this kind of talk may be a necessary step before a parent is ready to move into intervention activities. When we can listen fully our relationship with the family is strengthened. As an early intervention professional, we may most strongly identify ourselves as a problem solver. “Just listening” may feel unproductive. We may worry that we are neglecting our “real work”. Be assured that this step may be necessary and can actually improve our “productivity”.

4) Share information and resources

As the quarantine has extended, in addition to the emotional struggles listed above, families may be struggling with practical needs. EI providers can help by gathering and sharing resources. For example, many communities have come together with resources that can help to pay rent, access food or other necessities, and provide information about safe ways to start moving back into the world. Keeping children occupied may be a big challenge for many parents, especially if they are trying to work from home. EI providers can help by sharing online resources and activities that parents can do at home. But first, it’s ok to reassure parents that they don’t have to recreate school at home. It might be helpful to encourage simple, flexible schedules, for example. Remember the goal is to be “good enough”.

5) Take care of yourself

We have all reminded a tired parent that the best way to be ready to help their child is to take care of themselves. However, it may be hard to take our own advice. As we think about how best to support families remotely, we can be mindful to avoid over extending ourselves. Shifting to remote work requires learning to use different tools and skills as well as increased preparation to learn different materials and methods. Furthermore, remote work has been shown to be more cognitively taxing, so we may feel more tired than expected. Keeping realistic expectations for ourselves as well as families is useful. Providers, like the families they serve, may also need time with a supportive listener. Reflective Supervision/Consultation (RSC) is a form of professional development that can serve this role for EI professionals. Considered a pillar of reflective practice, RSC builds our professional practice while providing important buffering to stresses that our work can bring. If you already have RSC, don’t skip it now! If you do not have it, check with your agency or state infant mental health association for resources.

Remote work is in some ways wildly different and more challenging than our typical in-person delivery system. Making this shift under these circumstances has not been easy. Using reflective practice techniques can help. To learn more about how reflective practice can be integrated into home visiting and other EI work, consider the PAUSE framework presented in Tackling the Tough Stuff: A Home Visitor’s Guide to Supporting Families at Risk.

Interested in Learning More?

Developmental Parenting cover image

Tackling the Tough Stuff: A Home Visitor’s Guide to Supporting Families at Risk

The problem-solving framework in this practical guide will help home visitors manage even the most difficulty on-the-job challenges—and support and empower vulnerable families of children birth to 3.

Check out the book