Families as partners..

“We are in this together” I’ve told this many times to parents, whose child is new to therapy. When I started as a speech therapist, I used to go by the book, saying the right thing at the right time. Discussing the diagnosis, the treatment plans, the goals and then progress. That works perfectly for some people.

However, I noticed that parents were happy to get that sort of information, but they yearned for something more. Something more on an instinctual level. Almost like, when they were about to leave their child at my door for therapy, I asked the question “Would you like to come in and have fun with us?” Their eyes lit up and more than 99% of parents leave the most important calls and come in.

We talk about parents being equal partners in the process. But how much of that do we actually practice. At the beginning of my practice, I didn’t like the idea of having someone watch over me during my most vulnerable moments. I used to hyperventilate, thinking incessantly about the things that could go wrong in my session and what if the child had a full fledged tantrum and see the parents watch in dismay over the wrong choice of therapist and therapy to even go to in the first place!

I feel you, my fellow SLT’s. That’s the reality. I have yet to meet another SLT, who believes that he/she is the best and they cannot err and they are super awesome in their sessions. We are all awesome people doing awesome work, but real people as well.

I’ve had my share of bad experiences in sessions. And how did I circumnavigate it. Well, it starts with you, not the child or the parent.

What helped me was observing sessions of other SLT’s and you know what. They made mistakes, they didn’t get things right and sometimes the child had a tantrum. But, what was different was, these SLT’s prepared their best before the session commenced, like always. They knew the child so well that, they were a director who played the different scenarios of what could go right and what could go wrong and what should be the antidote, if at all the child had a tantrum. They were fully present and enjoying the session, rather than watching over their shoulder the whole time.

And the best part, if they made a mistake, they would say ‘My bad” and just move on. I’ve done that countless times and it shows that you are human. You make mistakes. Remember Shakespeare ” To err is human”. That’s what I am talking about. Prepare, enjoy and own it if you make a mistake during the process.

When you do this more often, it becomes natural and you are authentic in your interactions with parents. I make sure I tell the parents what I am working on during my session and share the types of resources I use. And most often, I’ve seen that parents ask the most interesting and relevant questions. They feel they are part of the process, not just individuals who collect reports and come twice or thrice a year for meetings.

Some parents are naturally anxious to come to the sessions, because they feel they would witness their child not do well. Well, our job is make sure that we leverage on the child’s strengths. We should be the expert who can do and show that to parents. Well, most of the time things don’t go as planned, but at least you tried. And 95% of the parents have no judgement. They empathize and as partners, we find a way.

On the contrary, children do appear distracted when they see their parents. Most of the parents realize it and decide to leave. However, I ask them to come and join the activity in the last 10 minutes before we finish the session. In this way, we talk about all the things the child did well during the sessions and children know that with the final game, they get to do it well and leave with their parents.

I love having family in my sessions. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and even extended families have graced my session. It helps me connect more with children and their roots.

The reason that I am writing this post is because, the other day I had a sibling who was excited and nervous to attend therapy with her brother. Imagine a seven year old nervous. I couldn’t imagine a child being stressed at that age. However, the session started off well, but in between her brother wanted to do a particular activity. She pressed him to finish, what was in front of him. He refused and was having a bit of a tantrum. She looked at me and asked ‘ Isn’t he supposed to finish what he started?’ . I said ‘Well, do you think so far he did well, he learnt something and he enjoyed it?’ She said ‘Yes, I never knew he was so good at bingo. He can find the answer quickly and I think he did two sheets pretty well. Even, I was thinking if we could play some monkey business’ Ha ha!

There you go. She knew exactly, how much time her brother was capable of attending. You don’t always have to be hell bent on making a child finish a task. Did they learn and enjoy themselves? That’s the question we need to ask ourselves. Honor the child.

Time flew and we enjoyed ourselves so much that in the end, the girl said ‘ I don’t want to leave. My brother did so well over here’ I said, ‘Well, now you know the secret’. Show it and teach it to your parents as well.

I believe we should all consciously involve families in our therapy sessions. It is uncomfortable, but if you are doing your best and enjoying yourselves doing it, then the rest will be taken care of.

Until next time…

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