Working with parents/carers at different stages of change

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What if someone isn’t ready to change? When setting goals with parents it is important to consider how ready the parent is to change and to set goals that are aligned with their current attitudes and behaviours. For example, if a parent has not even considered changing their physical activity behaviours, setting an action plan with them to go running three times a week will have little effect. 

Stages of change model

A model that is helpful for understanding how ready parents are to change is the Transtheoretical Model for Health Behaviour Change (often referred to as “stages of change”).

The stages of change model suggests there are five stages of change:

  1. Pre-contemplation – not thinking about change
  2. Contemplation – thinking about change but not yet done anything about it
  3. Preparation – made some concrete step towards change but not yet where you’d like to be
  4. Action – engaging in the desired behaviour but been doing so for less than 6 months
  5. Maintenance – the desired behaviour has been maintained for longer than 6 months.  

You can identify a parent’s stage of change by asking open questions about their physical activity and dietary behaviours, how long they have been doing these things and - in cases where change might be beneficial - have they considered changing any of these behaviours? Identifying what stage of change someone is at means you will be able to talk to parents at this level rather than, for example pushing someone into action while they are still at the pre-contemplation stage.   

Movement between the five stages is not linear, at any point someone might “relapse” to a previous stage. It is important if someone relapses to encourage them not to be too hard on themselves and acknowledge that relapse is common. Help the individual to identify the benefits they and their family have already achieved from their behaviour change and set a plan to move on.

The ideas below outline how you might work differently with parents at different stages of change.

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