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Barbara H. Fiese

Building Rapport with Families

Posted on February 16, 2006

Barbara H. Fiese (bio) discusses videotaping families in their homes.

In addition to telling us their stories in a narrative thing, since we are very much focused on sort of how the whole family works together, we do home observations and focus our observations around family meal times. When we recruit families into the study and tell them what's involved, we do get some people who say, "You are not coming into my house." We try to sort of normalize it for them and say, "A lot of people kind of have that reaction, but we've done hundreds of these."

What happens is that most of the time because we are focusing on families with school-aged children, young children is that after about 2 or 3 minutes the meal is fairly typical because you've got young kids at the table, and they don't put up with any change in behavior. I think in one of the first sittings we did, the camera was set up, and you saw one of the kids walk by before they even sat down for dinner, and the kid is walking by and he says, "Napkins on the table? We never have napkins on the table." You can't upset a system that quickly, and we try to first of all assure the parents that you probably will not change; your kid might be a little goofy at the beginning, but then it just sort of evens out to kind of what would happen during a regular meal. We're not there during the meal itself. We set up the camera. We show them how to operate it. We leave. We have a cell phone so they can call us when their meal is over; come back and pick up the equipment.

One of the things we get really, really beautiful data and this whole group interaction and how every thing works. But one of the things I have really come to appreciate is that this is a very personal and intimate moment of these families' lives that they are not always accustomed to sharing with other people. We have had occasions where I felt that for families who are not quite as accustomed to being together as a group, when you put them together as a group, there can sometimes be some emotional fallout so that I can see that sometimes parents get very agitated or they want to cut things short. I think that people need to really be aware too that even though we see this as collecting somewhat objective data, that we also are going into these people's homes and this is their personal space and that people are going to react differently when you have basically - although we don't like to think of ourselves as strangers - basically strangers coming into your home. Here again it goes back to being sensitive and aware of boundaries with families and being able to appreciate that there are different ways that families are going to sort of either embrace you or not when you come in to their homes.


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