When we work tirelessly in sessions and we don’t see carryover (leading us to believe that parents aren’t practicing these skills at home), it can be very frustrating for us. Although it’s easy to blame someone else for lack of progress, often times there is a lot more we can do to set parents up for success.
Invite parents into your sessions! Sometimes we like parents to sit out because there is less pressure on us. But could it be that parents aren’t carrying over skills at home because they just don’t know how? Inviting them into the sessions allows us time to truly teach, coach, and educate parents.
Are parents seeing the value? Sometimes our goals can be written in a confusing way, or they may seem arbitrary. Of course, we know that they are intentional and meaningful. But do the parents know that? Sometimes it’s hard for parents to see the value, which makes them less likely to work on them at home. So next time you’re explaining a goal to a parent, try to explain it in a way that is going to be meaningful for her. For instance, “When you’re reading at home this week, I really want you to focus on asking ‘what’ and ‘where’ questions. You know how when you ask Suzy what she did at school, it’s really hard for her to answer? Well, working on answering questions like this in books is one of the first steps to getting her to be able to do that with you."
Are we teaching parents the way they learn? We all learn in different ways. Just because you learn by listening, doesn’t mean that’s the best way for a parent to learn. Try to talk to the parent and figure out what her learning style is. Does she want handouts? Does she want to see you use the strategies? Does she need to try it herself in order to learn? Should you videotape a session with the parent, review it, and reflect back on it? Keep in mind that there are many different learning styles, and what works for one parent will not work for all parents.
Do they need some sort of system for accountability? If parents are like most people, they need some sort of system for accountability. Most of us do better when we’re being held accountable. This doesn’t mean you have to tell the parent, “I want you to practice this for 10 minutes per day 7 days per week, and mark an X here each time you do.” ...although, you could do that. It might be as simple as asking the parent, “What do you think the best way will be to remind yourself to practice?” Maybe the parent has an idea, or something that works for her that you haven’t thought of. Before printing a practice schedule for the parent, you can ask questions like, “How often do you think you’d be able to practice? How many days per week? How long of periods do you think would be realistic for you? When would be a good time during the day? Is there a way to make this part of of one his daily routines?” Let parents decide what works for them. All you’re doing is taking what they say and putting it into a chart that they can take home and mark it off.
Lastly, did you give the parents the confidence they need? It sounds silly, but sometimes this can be our biggest hurdle. Parents often have limiting beliefs such as, I’m not the specialist, the speech therapist is the specialist. She can help my child better than I can. We all know that’s not the truth. We’re not rocket scientists. ANYONE could learn to do the things we do. And who better to learn than the child’s parents. The ones who are with the child day in and day out. We can break down the homework we give them so that it doesn’t feel so overwhelming. We can make it bite-sized. So talk to parents and squash those limiting beliefs! I actually tell parents, “I’m not a rocket scientist. Anyone can do what I do. You know your child best. You are your child’s best teacher. I’m just here to guide you. You’ve got this. All I need you to do this week is XYZ.”
Jessie Ginsburg, M.S., CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist, creator of ASD from the Inside Out, and owner of Pediatric Therapy Playhouse, a multidisciplinary clinic in Los Angeles.