I'm Not Good With Kids
Okay, that title might not be accurate, or maybe it is. It actually doesn’t matter, and I don’t care.
However, I hear it ALL.THE.TIME. Everyone (and they mean well) always says “you are so good with kids.”
While this may or may not be true, being “good with kids” takes a lot of work and conscious effort as a speech-pathologist. It is a clinical skill that I have perfected over the years and I will share how “I became good with kids” here.
Be Kind, Forgiving, and FUN!
Being nice and fun may seem obvious, but it isn’t. I promise.
Many times, when it comes to medicine, therapy, or education, we get too serious! It is a serious matter, but it involves children. I’m not about to debate teaching or parenting styles, but the old way of education, which was flashcards and fear, just doesn’t work with speech therapy.
Children who are in speech therapy are working on skills that the rest of their friends don’t have to. They are “different,” and they may know it. I know ALL of us have things we have to work on; however, a 6-year-old can’t comprehend that.
Also, working on something (possible for YEARS) that doesn’t come easy to you sucks.
Last, working on communication makes us vulnerable. Communication is tied to who we are as a person.
So, to keep children invested and committed, speech therapy needs to be fun and something they look forward to, not dread. Otherwise, they will burnout with little or no progress made.
Know How Much To Push
This is a skill that takes practice and constant effort, and I believe it is the MOST important.
Knowing how much to push a child so they learn as much as possible in the short-time we have them each week is the most important thing we do. We want to push enough so they make progress, but not too much so they hate therapy and stop trying.
To achieve this goal, I usually:
- Start each session with something they will be successful at - account 80-90% accuracy. For five minutes, the child will feel good and confident.
- Then, I move to a goal or a task and adjust my cueing so the child is about 70% accurate. They will feel confident because even though it is harder, they can figure it out, learn, and achieve their goal.
- Then, I move to a challenging task where I may be need to cue, model, or teach more often. I praise them for working harder, trying something new that is difficult, and learning!
- Then, I wrap up with a task that they are more independent with but still need to practice and usually assign that for home practice.
Remember, each child is VERY different and each child will even react differently depending on the task, day, mood, etc… This must be MONITORED carefully throughout the session. Know the child’s cues, and when to push a little or back off.
In the end, they need to feel confident and proud of the work they did!
Know and Cater to the Child's Interests
- Does the child like games? Great! Do that.
- Does the child like art? Great! Do that.
- Does the child like sports? Great! Do that.
- Does the child like books? Great! Do that.
- Does the child like toys? Great! Do that.
Goals, cues, learning, self-awareness, etc… is all that I care about. I couldn't care less about the medium used to teach such skills.
Of course, direct, explicit teaching needs to happen throughout the session but you can always sprinkle in the child’s choice of “fun” to keep them interested. Learning and communication is FUN!
Praise! Praise! Praise! The Right Way
Make sure you ALWAYS praise a child for getting an answer right. This is key. They have to know if they did it right or not. However, you also have to praise a child for the wrong answer.
Yes. I just wrote that.
However, when a child makes an error, make the “praise” into a “teachable moment.”
Make sure the child knows they did something right before you tell them what else they have to work on. This will give them motivation to keep practicing. Be specific!
- “I like how you tried 3 times, that was a lot of work!”
- You were so close! You were able to get your tongue behind your teeth without me showing you first, just next time….”
- “Good try”
- “Wow, you used all your strategies just like we practiced but you just need to do this too…”
Also, NEVER say “good job” if they did something wrong. Then, they won’t know right from wrong.
My other part of this tip to this applies more to private practice. I try not to talk about the child in front of them. When I report to parents after a session, I include the child in the “report.” I keep the report 90% positive and praise them for all their wonderful learning.
Then, I review where the “most learning” took place and how to practice the new skills at home.