I don’t have kids…so who am I to be telling these parents how to raise their kids?
When I was first starting out as a 22-year-old speech-language pathology assistant, that thought went through my head every. single. day.
Let me take you back.
There were about 30 therapists working in the clinic. I was the youngest one, by far. Every day I was concerned about looking “too young." I had curly hair, dimples, and to top it off, a very high pitched voice.
So I started to try to dress older. I wore business attire every day. We’re talking really unattractive slacks, sweaters, and flats. I even straightened my hair because I thought it made me look older. We had casual Fridays and all of the therapists would wear jeans. Guess who wouldn’t wear jeans? This girl. No way. Jeans would make me look even younger.
It’s funny because now it’s hard to remember those times. I guess I blocked it out. But recently when I was training students who were fresh out of graduate school, this was one of the biggest concerns they brought up to me. And all the feelings of insecurity came flooding back.
Fast forward to present day and I now have two kids. I was excited to have kids because I thought I’d be able to relate to my families even better and that they would actually respect my opinion as a fellow parent. But here’s the truth…
I’m going to let you in on a little secret.
Parents don’t know anything.
You’re laughing, but you guys, I’m serious. You think that once you become a parent all of these so-called “maternal instincts” are going to kick in. I’m still waiting on mine. And I’m not alone. For a lot of parents, parenting is not some natural ability that kicks in right when a baby come into their lives. It’s something you learn through time, and more importantly, experience.
I’ll give you an example of one of my many classic parenting fails.
When my first son was born, I remember one day when he wouldn’t stop crying. I tried changing him, feeding him, putting him to sleep. I was out of ideas. My mom came over and said, “Do you think he’s warm?” He was in a sweater in the middle of summer. Ok, so my mom was right. I felt like a horrible parent for not thinking about that. But I learned from that experience and now it’s just one of those checkboxes I go through when I have a fussy child. That’s just one example of how parenting does not “come naturally”.
What should you do when you find yourself saying things like, who am I to be training these parents when I’m not a parent myself?
Be confident. Remember how much you know. I can tell you that we learn much more about child development in grad school than we do from any mommy blog. We know our stuff. Plus, we work with 20, 30, 40, even 50 or more kids PER WEEK. We’ve had close relationships with a lot of kids. And experiences with many different types of kids.
Know your stats. Nothing brings me more confidence than when a parent asks me a question and I can seamlessly rattle of some statistics to answer their question. For instance, when parents ask if their toddler with an expressive language delay is going to grow out of it, I can say “Well, research shows that 70-80% of late talkers will catch up to their peers without any intervention. But that means 20-30% of late talkers won’t catch up, which is the purpose of early intervention. It’s impossible for us to know who is going to fall into that 70-80%, and who is going to fall into that 20-30%. That’s why we recommend therapy for all late talking toddlers.” Bet the parent didn't know that stat!
Draw on your experience. You can use examples of other kids to guide parents. When you’re working with a late talker, for example, he’s most likely not the first late talker you’ve treated. So when parents ask you questions, refer to past clients and give examples (of course without using names!) For example, if a parent asks “How long is my child going to be in therapy?”, you can say, “You know I’ve seen a lot of kids his age, and it’s hard to predict. I’ve had some kids who need to be in therapy for years and I’ve seen some kids completely catch up by age 3.” We don’t have to be a parent to relate to these moms and dads, we have plenty of “our own kids."
Let me share one more secret with you.
The key to any parent’s heart is loving his or her child. Of course parents want to see progress in therapy, but it’s just as important for them to see that their therapist is a nurturing, supportive person who has their child’s best interest at heart.
Jessie Ginsburg, M.S., CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist, creator of the online course ASD from the Inside Out, and owner of Pediatric Therapy Playhouse, a multidisciplinary clinic in Los Angeles.