The Trick to the Battle of Wills

Photo courtesy Lance Neilson/flickr

As a speech therapist, I’ve found that I can connect with some children right away.

These children want to please me and work really hard – maybe we even make some progress in that first session! These sessions make me feel like I am the best speech therapist that has ever existed. This has happened to me recently. I got a new patient, we got along great, and I was able to say/do the right things to help him say that sound correctly. It is a wonderful feeling and validates my skills as a speech therapist.

But then there is the kid that I don’t connect with right away. Nothing I can say or do is going to make them crack a smile, much less cooperate with any of the activities I have planned. These sessions are hard and my ego always takes a hit. I start to wonder if my approach just isn’t working so I change approaches. I start to wonder about the toys I have chosen, so I change my toys. I second guess everything about my therapy session and am constantly critiquing myself – sometimes fairly and sometimes harshly.

Sometimes, with some children, there is a battle of wills. It can become a game for who is going to give up first. He’s thinking maybe I’ll get to go back to my mom and never have to come to this strange place and work with that woman who I don’t want to play with. Okay… maybe those aren’t exactly his thoughts but I imagine it’s something similar. Meanwhile, I’m thinking, “No way bud. We’re getting through this session.”

Sometimes that’s all I get. We just get through the session.

While I’m constantly looking for new ways to reach the child, the child is constantly looking for ways out of the session. What am I as a pediatric therapist supposed to do? Is this being productive? It’s easy to feel like we’re just wasting time and even wasting money, and about the time I’m at my wit’s end because I have no other ideas, the battle is over. All of a sudden, the child likes my games, likes playing with my toys, and isn’t crying! Sometimes it feels like he was waiting until I felt defeated, but I know that he just took a lot longer to warm up to me and would have taken that long to warm up to anybody.

Some of our kiddos need to just get through the session in order to get to a place where they feel safe and comfortable enough to be vulnerable and try an activity or use a word. Some of these kids want to do everything correctly and the effort to produce a word, produce a sound, or play a game, can be stressful on them because they already know they’re not going to be able to do it perfectly.

So when I feel like I’m stuck in the battle of wills, I know I just have to wait it out. The challenge is to not give up because when you don’t give up on a child, great things can happen.

Jessie Nelson Willis, M.Ed., CCC-SLP

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