What Is a Parent’s Role at Therapy?

Week after week, parents bring their children to our clinic. They walk in our doors, hand-in-hand with their children, and trust that when their child goes back to the treatment room the therapist knows best. It’s important for parents to trust us, but it’s even more important that the parent and the therapist are on the same page. It takes a coordinated effort by both to help a child reach his or her potential. Today I want to share with you how the roles of parents and therapists are different and how we can support each other to help a child succeed.

First: You know your child best.

When you first walk into a therapy room, whether it’s for an evaluation or your first session with a new therapist, you already have a pretty good idea of what’s going on. Maybe you can’t name exactly what your child is having trouble with, but you know there is some skill with which they are struggling. You will always be the person that knows your child best. You know best who she needs or wants to be able to communicate with. You know best which playground activity with which he has the most difficulty. You know best that she really struggles with the star shaped buttons on her favorite pink and purple shirt. Your knowledge, intuition and valuable insights into who your child is as a person don’t disappear when you walk into my therapy room. I will come to adore your child and I promise to do my very best to help her, but you will always be the person who knows your child best.

Second: You have goals. What are they?

When you first walked into my room, you already had goals in mind. It might have been something like “I want to hear my son talk,” or maybe, “I want my daughter to be able to run at the playground without falling so often.” Did I ask you about those goals? I will confess that at times, we therapists get so consumed in our own routines that we neglect to ask YOU what you want for your child. Forgive us, and then tell us what you are working toward—whether it’s broad or super-specific, we need to know.

My job is to help you understand your child’s current developmental level and to help you navigate the Hows of gaining that next milestone skill.

Sometimes the goals therapists put on paper may not look much like the goal you had in mind. If so, ask me about it. Often, your child may need help on a foundational or precursor skill—a “stepping stone” to the goal you have in mind. But sometimes my priorities as a therapist might look different from your priorities as a parent. I’m not familiar with the culture of your family—the people and things that are most important to you. By sharing your personal goals for your child, we can work together as a team to meet your ultimate goals.

Or maybe you’ve been doing the therapy thing for a few (or more) years now. You received the new plan of care and you glanced at the goals but you’re not really sure what “language milieu teaching” or “Aided Language Stimulation” is. Let’s chat about those things. If you’d ever like to review the goals we are working on or the strategies we have been practicing (and talk about which ones were successful and which ones tanked), let’s set up a time to meet. We can discuss on the phone or by email, or you are welcome to sit in on your child’s session and we can talk about it then.

Three: Let’s talk about the homework.

I’ll admit, sometimes I send you home with a worksheet or a list of words to practice. Sometimes you are able to carve out time to practice that list of words between cooking dinner, the chaos that is playtime after dinner, and then getting the kids ready for bed. But some days there’s no room in your schedule for another activity. I get it.

Why do I send those things home anyway?

We both know that life is busy and it seems there are never enough hours in the day—even during the slow days. But your child goes about his day talking, sitting up, walking around, untying and then tying his shoes. While it is my job to help your child learn to do those things more independently, my time working with you and your child is a small blip on your weekly calendar – only an hour or so once or twice a week. Your child needs more practice at that skill they are struggling with than I can give them in our weekly session…so I send things home to practice.

But I honestly do want the things I send home to be fun and engaging – to be useful to you – to make your child feel just a little more independent and empowered. Sometimes I might give you a list of words to practice, but before you leave my therapy room or the lobby of the clinic, let’s talk about how to make those words fun. Could you incorporate them into your family game night? Could you have your child “teach” you how to say those words? Let’s also talk about what sort of support he needs. What cues will help him? When do you know it’s okay to fade those prompts out a bit? To make the task more challenging?

The more practice your child has, the faster she will master that skill. I’d like to help you help your child practice that skill at home.

Four: You are welcome in my therapy room.

I’ve been in your shoes, Mama. I’ve been in that same chair, Dad. When my son was born prematurely, I was on the other side of the therapy room, listening to the list of things my child couldn’t do well. I watched as professionals helped him navigate his difficulties – and I was grateful for them – but I felt like I was on the sidelines. It can be a lonely and awkward feeling sometimes, can’t it? When I began to feel that way, I decided to make a change. I started asking more questions. I watched those professionals work with my child and then I asked them to teach me what they were doing. By diving in deeper, I found myself feeling more and more empowered to help my son in all those moments when my support team was not there in the room with us.

I don’t want you to have to curl yourself into the too-tiny blue chair in my therapy room and feel like you don’t know how best to help your own child. I want you to feel like you are part of the process of therapy –  because you are! I don’t want you to only see my therapy room on the day your child has her first evaluation. I want you on the floor playing with us and learning different ways you can teach those new words you are anxiously waiting to hear her say.

I want you to feel welcomed in my therapy room because you ARE welcome in my therapy room.

Sure, there may be days when your daughter and I need to practice a new type of sentence one-on-one, so you wait in the lobby or maybe you treat yourself to your first actually-still-hot-when-you-drink-it cup of coffee that week. But there are also days when I want you to see the ways we are using a picture book to help your daughter put three words together in a sentence instead of just two. And I know there are days when you feel like you’ve tried everything and she just can’t seem to get that /k/ sound right and so you are looking for suggestions to try something new. Remember this: You are welcome in my therapy room. And if I forget to ask you if you’d like to come back, I’d love for you to ask me.

So, what do you say, Mama? How about you, Daddy? What can we do together that would make you feel more involved in your child’s therapy session this week?

Margaret Isaacs, MA, CCC-SLP


Image Courtesy Pixabay

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