As I mentioned in my last newsletter, I have been caring for my two granddaughters a couple days per week during the Covid-19 pandemic. These days bring back memories of working with little ones and remembering things that helped me during those many years. This newsletter contains another random thought that may help you in your work with young children.
So, let’s start with my second TOTALLY RANDOM thought. 😊
Commit to being THE best person for that family and that child. –
When you are coaching parents, get to know their daily routines, which ones are difficult for them, and which routines are great. Truly listen to what parents have to say. A home visit without those conversations is less impactful. A speech therapy session in a clinic is also less impactful without those conversations. Is it hard sometimes? Yes, it is.
Every person is on a different journey, comes from a different perspective, and has a totally different set of tools in their tool chest. I did home visits for 25 years, worked with children in a pediatric clinic and a hospital before that. There isn’t much that I haven’t experienced and yet, every parent and every child that I have ever met is new, exciting, and challenging. It is up to me to be the best that I can be for that family. I equate my skill at times to being a chameleon. We have to adapt instantly to the surroundings and the situation. We have to figure out what makes a kid tick and what makes a parent trust you and become a partner in the intervention.
I remember the mother of a little student of mine. She grew up in Somalia and was living in freezing cold Minnesota in an apartment. She rarely left the apartment as you probably guessed. Even in the summer, she was not always comfortable taking her kids to the park. Her son had significant speech and language delays, and she was concerned about his lack of communication. She was concerned about their safety.
Be careful in assuming what families need –
In one of the first home visits, I could see that there were very few toys and not much furniture. What is important to know, though, is this. Never assume that a family wants extra “stuff” in their home. Some have come from nothing. “Stuff” can sometimes create too much confusion, too much clutter, and also reinforces to a family that they are in a place that is not comfortable or familiar to them. They may get the impression that what they bring to the table doesn’t quite measure up. You never know whether your desire to help a family is really what they want. Getting to know them and approaching these things slowly is key. We try to teach perspective taking in our young students, and we may, at times, forget that same skill in our own lives.
As I got to know the mom, she did indicate a concern for getting some furniture, so we got her connected to programs that supplied her with the needed furniture. Toys never seemed to be a high priority. As a speech-language pathologist, of course, I couldn’t help myself. I did donate some toys to them, but the next week, they were usually nowhere to be found. I realized that my need for toys was just that – MY need and not their need. Meet them where they are.
Find a connection with parents or show an interest in their lives when THEY were children –
The biggest connection with this mother occurred in a conversation we had about her village in Somalia. I asked her about what her life was like as a child, how it is different than her kids’ experiences, and what she wished she had here in this country. She talked about the village she lived in. I asked her what she and her siblings did all day. She said that they were outside all day, playing with their siblings and their neighbor kids. I asked her whether all of these kids talked to each other. She said they were talking and playing all day long.
I sat and smiled and thought about what an incredible learning opportunity that was to learn. Think of the little kids that got to constantly listen to older kids talk and learn how to play in their world. I think this mother was shocked when I spoke with excitement about what a GREAT learning opportunity that was. I think she immediately felt like I valued her upbringing and wished we could create that here for her.
That discussion opened the door for me to also tell her about the importance of a strong vocabulary. I told her what an incredible gift that was to have that type of experience as a child. I was able to share that hearing thousands of words per hour (based on research) got her ready for learning when she got to school.
Remember that a parent’s life experiences affect what they can provide for their child –
I shared with this mom that I grew up in a small town, too, and some of my life experience was similar to hers. Even though we grew up in different parts of the world, our lives as children were spent outside playing with siblings and neighborhood kids.
I then asked her what her mother did while the kids were out playing. She was handling the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry, and all the household tasks necessary. I asked if her mother ever played with the children or had the children participate in those typical daily tasks. She said mothers had no time to play with the kids, and they did all of the household tasks without the kids. This knowledge was so valuable to me as it showed me what had been modelled to her as a parent.
Discuss how her current world is different, what her child needs, and how she can manage it all –
This discussion went to her concerns for her child and the fact that he wasn’t communicating in words, wasn’t following directions, and didn’t seem to understand language. We discussed the life her son currently experiences and how he doesn’t hear words like she did as a child in her small village. We discussed how so much is unfairly left up to her, to be her child’s playmate, teacher, caregiver, to talk to him, and to determine the specific strategies that will help him learn.
At a later date, but not initially, we discussed how television does not take the place of the rich vocabulary that she heard as a young child in her country. Human interaction is key. So often parents from other countries feel that television is a huge help to teach children English. We need to approach this issue but with caution and lack of judgment. Go here for an article on screen time.
The connection is key –
These discussions are difficult to navigate and can only be done when you have a connection with the parent. So often we jump into fixing the problem and don’t truly take the time to determine what can give this child the best jump start into his entire school career. You are often the first person a family meets in the educational system. Be the best you can be for that family. YOU ARE THAT IMPORTANT!
Ask the parent 2 questions to get started –
I often ask a parent these two questions to get started in what they can do to help their child. 1. When you think of your day with your child, what is one thing that comes to your mind that is your biggest concern? 2. In thinking about your entire day or week, what is your favorite thing to do with your child or what does your child LOVE to do?
In the answer to the first question, if the parent says, “He just doesn’t tell me what he wants, so he mainly cries,” then I would respond, “Is there any time or situation where this happens a lot?” Try to get the parent to pin-point a specific routine. Sometimes a parent cannot identify anything specific. That’s ok. Meet the parent where she is. If a parent feels comfortable, ask to watch a routine where this difficulty with communication may occur. If you can’t observe a routine at that time, that’s ok. You can ask the parent to keep track of those times.
How to improve that routine is something that needs its own blog post. Certainly, you can brainstorm together how to either re-direct the child, how to use different techniques to keep the child regulated. I will discuss this more specifically at a later time.
When parents tell you what their child loves or what they love doing with their child, this is a great place to start. Ask if they would do that routine so that you can watch. Before you ever give suggestions for how to improve a routine, be very specific in what the parent did that was wonderful. I often say in my seminars to “catch the parent in the act of being great!” Tell the parents the different techniques he or she is using naturally. When you point out those specifics, parents then know that these are the kinds of things that help their child. Every parent does something that is great. It is our job to find that skill and build upon it.
Check out the Helping You Help Kids page on our website –
As you explore the world of coaching parents or perhaps if you are a parent yourself, you may be interested in my Helping You Help Kids section on my website. There you will find free videos of various techniques that I have taught parents over the years and other resources that I have found helpful.