Picture of a therapist talking with parents with a child sat between them. Text reads "3 tips for building strong working relationships".

3 Tips for Building Strong Working Relationships in Parent-Coaching Sessions.

Have you ever worked with a family that you just don’t “gel” with? The one where the sessions feel awkward and a bit stilted? Yeah, me too.  It’s not your fault; we’ve all been there. And honestly? You won’t “click” with every single family that you work with, but it’s important not to take that personally.  However, there are things you can do to help build strong working relationships in parent-coaching sessions. 

After all, as Early Intervention therapists, we know that relationships matter. Like, REALLY matter. And we know that the quality of our working relationship with parents and caregivers can make or break our sessions.  But the question remains- just how exactly do we develop that good working relationship in our parent-coaching sessions?

Luckily, there is a way… and it’s evidence-based! Check out these 3 quick tips for how you can develop a good working relationship with parents/caregivers in your parent-coaching sessions. 

Why is a strong working relationship important for parent-coaching sessions?

First, we need to know why that strong working relationship is important for our parent-coaching sessions.

Let’s think for a moment- You’re seeing the parents/caregivers and their child regularly in their home. You’re involved in their daily routines. You’re stepping into their safe place and observing the things they’re doing. You’re giving tips and advice about things they need to do more of, or do differently with their own child! You’re having difficult conversations.  There’s a lot going on, and the parents/caregivers will likely be feeling a huge range of emotions with you being there. They may feel nervous, embarrassed, anxious, overwhelmed, relieved- you name it.  So having a good working relationship with the parent/caregiver will make all the difference to your parent-coaching sessions.

We also know that parent-implemented interventions are highly effective (See Kaiser and Roberts, (2011), Heidlage et al (2019), and Roberts et al (2019)). And this is why a strong working relationship is crucial for your parent-coaching sessions. You need to get the parent/caregiver on board with the intervention and strategies you’re coaching them to use so that they can support their child in the best way.  You need them to feel comfortable with you, so you are able to have open and honest conversations with them. And you need them to be involved in the sessions; to contribute and take the lead sometimes, rather than you working 1:1 with their child.

But in order to do all of that, you need to have a positive working relationship with the parent/caregiver. So, it’s vital that they feel heardappreciated, and valued, and perhaps most importantly, they need to trust you.

So how do we build a strong working relationship in parent-coaching sessions?

Research (see Reeder and Morris, 2020) has shown that we can develop this good working relationship with parents and caregivers by…
1. Involving them in decision-making.

2. Encouraging collaboration and valuing their contributions.

3. Being positive.

4. Being empathetic and providing reassurance.

5. Showing that we care about their child.

Picture of female therapist talking with father while child sits on his lap. Text highlights the five points from the blog post about building a strong working relationship.

That’s all great, but what does that look like during our parent-coaching sessions?

There are three key things you can do to help build a strong working relationship in your parent-coaching sessions and they relate most to points one and two above.

  1. Regularly reflect on your role in the intervention. Be mindful of traditional, embedded power dynamics in traditional therapy approaches. Reflect on your role and approach in relation to this. Aim for a partnership with the parent/caregiver, rather than pushing your own agenda, and dismissing their views.

  2. Frequently check-in with parents/caregivers to see what they think about the intervention/strategies/format of sessions. Make sure they understand what you’re doing in the sessions- what the intervention is and why. Talk about the things they’re interested in or concerned about at present. Remember that any interventions have to work for them, and not just be what works for you.

  3. Encourage them to actively take part in sessions. Clearly communicate their role in the intervention and offer the necessary support to help them fulfill that role. Ask them for their opinions, thoughts, ideas, etc. Ask them what they’ve learned or researched and be open to their findings. Be respectful and open-minded about their contributions. This is better than you just providing all the information/ideas during the sessions because this leads to parent/caregiver empowerment and increases engagement in therapy.

Image of therapist sat with notebook, talking to parents who are sat in the background. Text summarises the three points from the post.

All of these things help to show the parent/caregiver that we want to involve them in the decision-making and that you value their contributions. It helps them feel heard, appreciated, and valued.

Additionally, having empathy for their situation and sharing treatment responsibility with parents/caregivers is a good way to improve your working relationship in parent-coaching sessions. Similarly, being interested in their child as an individual, focusing on the positive things the child and parent/caregiver are doing, rather than talking about the negatives or focusing on the child’s diagnosis, all help to show the parent/caregiver that we care about them as a family, and this contributes to building a strong working relationship too. 

Where can I go to get more information about building good working relationships in my parent-coaching sessions?

As I said before, these tips for building a good working relationship with parents and caregivers in your session are good practice; it makes a huge difference to the sessions, and it’s evidence-based, too. Win-win!

For more info on the topic see articles by Amsbary et al, (2020)Leadbitter et al, (2020), and Reeder & Morris (2020) (and do a search on The Informed SLP)
And it is also talked about in Rush and Shelden’s Early Childhood Coaching Handbook which I’ve shared about in my blog post here, and I talk about this in my Early Intervention Handbook, too. 

Lastly, if you’re keen to continue developing your parent-coaching skills, I share exclusive tips and resources with email subscribers. You can join the list here.