When the Parent Becomes the Therapist

Posted by Kimberly Delude, Speech Pathologist and Boys Town Press Author on Nov 24th 2020

The world-wide pandemic changed many things in our lives. One of those big changes was school closures which thrust parents into a new role as educator and therapist. This may seem scary and you may want to react in a big way. When you stop to think about it, as a parent you are one of the best possible teachers for your children. Not only do you know them so well but you spend many more hours a day with them. Instead of just thirty minutes of language or social skills practice, with you they can get so much more. With a few simple changes you can set your kids up for social skills success that can continue long after schools resume in person.

1. You don’t need to be perfect. 

I’ll say it again: You don’t need to be perfect. You may get an activity from a teacher or therapist and immediately think I’m not sure I’m prepared to help my child with this. Try focusing less on the specifics of the activity and see if you can find a way to help your child experience the overall purpose or goal of the activity, by doing it in your own way. For example, let's say the assignment is from their social skills group and they want you to do a blurting scavenger hunt. You might be thinking what does that even mean?, but break it down. You know the goal is taking conversational turns so put it into an activity that is manageable for you. Do some baking or have them help you with a chore. During baking whoever has the magic spatula is the one who gets to share or while one person folds an item the other has the floor to share and then you switch. Your kids are getting personal interaction this way which is so much better than just doing a worksheet by themselves.

2. Don’t reinvent the wheel. 

Use books, like the Freddie the Fly series, that already exist and can walk you through a lesson. No need for you to create additional lessons.

3. Take a break

You or your child being stressed will not help. Plus, some of the best social skills can be learned from games (i.e. turn taking, losing gracefully) or from snack time (conversational turns, not blurting).

4. If the work being sent home is too much, look for opportunities in your everyday routines. 

You’re working too and don’t have time to take on a second job. So, add in a game of facial cues at teeth brushing time, talk about worries over breakfast, or make lunch together. This not only practices following and giving directions but turn taking and you can add in a game. For example, if you are working with your children on managing the size of reactions, try few rounds of “Size of the problem: What if…” Here you would provide your children with examples of problems they may encounter, and how they might respond. “What if the cookies burn?” (Will you bug out or make a new batch?).

5. Make the student the teacher

After they do their lesson for the day have them teach you or another member of the family what they learned. They will love getting to be the boss and call the shots. Plus, it lets you see if they can put what they learned into action.

Change can be hard for everyone but as a parent you are very much equipped to take on this role. So next time it feels like a big deal take a breath and remember that you have this. The kids will take their cues from you so if you react appropriately to a stressful situation they will too.