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Why We Shouldn’t Withhold Preferred Items

Raise your hand if you have ever had a child walk into their therapy session holding their favorite toy and you thought "you know what, I'm just going to take this toy away so it's not distracting".

Now raise your hand if you immediately regretted that decision...

We have all been there!

But taking away a child’s preferred items can actually do more harm than good.

Here are 5 reasons why we should NOT take a child’s preferred item:

  1. It breaks trust - Trust is foundational for building connection which leads to more language and learning

  2. It causes dysregulation - And a dysregulated child is NOT in their optimal learning zone

  3. It creates a power differential - True relationships are based on mutual respect and a power differential does not promote respect and understanding

  4. It decreases intrinsic motivation over time - Withholding items during a therapy session creates a compliance based system (if you complete the session, then you can get your car back).

  5. It ignores what the child’s needs are - The first question we should ask is “why is the child holding the object?” It could be for comfort, emotional security, a coping mechanism, a sensory need, etc. And we don’t want to take the toy away without knowing the reason they are holding it in the first place.

Once you have addressed the underlying need and you have established a true connection with the child, chances are, they will willingly let go of that item eventually.

So let’s talk about 5 things you can do instead of taking away the preferred item:

  1. Include that item in your activity

  2. Get your own similar item so you can play together

  3. Give them offer they can’t refuse - engage them in an activity that’s so fun that they would rather play with that than their preferred item

  4. Do nothing - just continue on with your therapy activity and don’t worry about the preferred item at all

  5. Focus on connection - when you place your focus on a true connection with the child, it won’t matter that they have this preferred item in their hand. You’ll spend your session focusing on what they need and then holding their preferred item or not won’t matter to you.

To hear more about why we shouldn’t withhold preferred items and what we can do instead, check out our Making the Shift Live Show. Making the Shift Episode 54.

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