Module 4: Building Conversations

4.4 Put Clients & Families First

TeachableLet the Client Decide Where to Start

Start where the person or family is. Let them tell you what they need to know. You will get farther if you address what your client wants or needs to learn.

If you get to know the individual or family, you can relate to them with something that’s of interest to them.

Avoid having a set agenda. Be prepared to take advantage of any opportunity to teach someone about nutrition.

Watch for the “teachable moment”: “While we were trying to get everything together for an on-site celebration, I realized the conversation among the mothers was centered on health issues, especially those concerning women — breast cancer, PMS [premenstrual syndrome], and nutrition. I capitalized on the moment and during dessert had a group discussion centered around their expectations of the WIC program and what topics they were interested in. I was also able to show a 15-minute video about women and nutrition, which led to a lively discussion.”

Use refreshment breaks: For parenting classes, nutrition topics are a natural link for young families. Any meeting that requires a refreshment break offers nutrition education opportunities that allow you to provide culinary treats that are healthy and tasty.

Use Family Interaction to Strengthen Education

Make sure your nutrition education messages reach the appropriate family members.

  • Ask how the roles of the husband, wife, and children in buying, preparing, and eating food are different.
  • Find out if your client will want to check with family members before making decisions or agreeing to try something new.
  • Point out that each family member can influence the foods and dishes eaten by others in the family.

Identify the decision-maker in the family. If this person is not your client, try to include them in any family nutrition discussions. Even though they might not be responsible for making food purchases or preparing food, their influence is important.

  • Many cultures, including Asians and Hispanics, see the oldest male as the head of the family.
  • In African American families and in Native American families, an elderly male or female may be the most respected.

Encourage all interested family members to take part in counseling or education.

Send a message through the children: Children may be an avenue for getting nutrition information to parents.

Involve the family shopper: Find out who does the shopping for the family. Don’t assume that it is the person who cooks the food. And don’t assume it’s the woman. It’s your job to discover who plays what part in making family decisions.

Respect Age and Experience

Older adults in a family may be resistant to accepting changes in the family’s diet, especially for young children. Remember to respect their points of view and pay particular attention to include them in conversations about family values related to food and nutrition. This will be important to keep in mind as the number of grandparents in the parenting role increases.

A nutritionist gave advice about avoiding being challenged by family members.

“We need to validate people. We need to recognize them and give them importance to start with. And so I have learned that whenever we have grandmothers in our group, right away I identify them. I say, ‘Today, we are going to discuss beans, and Mrs. Brown, I am sure you have a good recipe to use.’ I put her as my teacher. If we [MCH professionals] can come as learner[s] to the group, that always makes [the family] feel good about themselves.”

  • A word of caution: Be careful if you use this type of approach. You should know the person you are calling on well enough to be sure that asking her to speak out in a group setting would not embarrass her or make her feel uncomfortable. You should also have a pretty good idea about how she will answer the question. Be aware of the possibility that she may offer advice that is contradictory to the nutrition message you are trying to get across, and plan how you will handle that situation.