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If we were talking to an adult, we would (hopefully) consider their experiences, their feelings, their concerns... We would consider whether they like surprises, or like to be informed in advance; whether they prefer to skip the details, or prefer to know exactly what to expect.
Speech therapy is not part of the everyday routine. It's not like the universal daily ritual (wrestle) of brushing teeth.
Let's be honest, speech therapy is unusual. It's different. And it's often unclear what it is, what it looks like and how it works.
So, if you're a parent or a therapist, ask yourself these questions, BEFORE speaking to your child. Of course you might discuss some of these questions WITH your child.
And you might speak with the professional IN ADVANCE of your appointment - so everyone is on-the-same-page.
And this conversation should be ongoing, checking-in during the first meeting and subsequent appointments, to ensure the "young person" is taken into account.
3 questions to prepare your child for success in speech therapy
1. What's going through the child's mind?
What are their questions and concerns?
2. What are the "hot words"?
"Hot words" that turn-them-off.
What words might scare them or make them feel uneasy?
"Hot words" that turn-them-on.
What words can be inviting and soothing?
3. What could be a "security blanket"?
What are source of comfort, safety or security?
What's going through the child's mind?
The example I think of is something I heard from Dr. Carol Westby, one of giants in in research and clinical speech-language pathology. She contributed loads of research, assessments and more to show us how children learn through play.
Now, for example, if you think about how children learn to swim, children don't learn how to swim when they're terrified of/in the water. They learn how to swim only after they're comfortable to "splish splash" and fool-around in the water.
So, what that means for us is this: children don't learn when they're terrified. None of us do.
We may memorize something out of fear, we may be able to spit it back on a test, but we're not really learning, long-term, deep learning. Long-term, deep, learning happens when you feel safe. Learning and therapy for that matter, happens when you feel interested and curious; when you feel secure; when you feel there's someone on the other side that has something to offer you. When you feel that other person "gets you," responds to you and can enlighten you.
WORDS THAT TURN-OFF:
I don't think my seventh-grade son is interested in anyone else telling him that he's going to have speech homework. No one is looking for more homework. So, the second you say, “Hello, I was going to give a little speech homework," I think you've lost them at "hello." We need to think about the words we use.
WORDS THAT TURN-ON:
As compared to the previous example; These are ways to create a bridge, to create trust, and once you do that, you can have a very productive relationship, and you can really work on very sensitive things. For example; inviting a youngster to start a project; or inviting a youngster to draw, act, dance or even make a face to show how they feel about something. Sometimes, touchy topics can be more comfortable once you establish "rapport" through some very soothing activities like; watching a video, looking at pictures, reading a book, going outside to take a walk, shoot hoops or throw/kick a ball back and forth. So long as you use words that are very sterile and very fearsome. Even if the person stays in therapy, it's not going to penetrate.
Depending on the child's age, there are security blankets to consider - before and upon arriving at therapy.
- Bring a snack (ask therapist if this is "ok," ahead of time!)
- A familiar book
- A favorite toy or game
- Tell the child "the therapist is NOT a doctor" (i.e. no shots)
- Assure the child they will not be left alone in the room without parent (discuss ahead of time with therapist)
- Ask the therapist what the child (and parent!) should expect during the appointment, and relay that to your child
- Prepare some notes to inform the therapist of your child's interests, hobbies, accomplishments
- Prepare the child to answer basic questions - and if the child may be reluctant, make a plan with the child how they would like to handle the situation
I think that's the way to set-up "how we talk about therapy." Whether it's a young child, or an older child, or a teen, or an adult, we should make sure to make it relevant; make sure to address points of concern (and even resistance), and make it matter of fact, and description not judgemental.
If we prepare well, then we can engage in therapy with the confidence that we want to have - and assured that our kids will have the confidence they crave. After all, we all deserve to feel safe and secure.