Speech and language therapy does tend to involve practising something that you find difficult over and over again. No-one enjoys doing that! It is particularly difficult if you realise that it is something other people seem to manage effortlessly, but you really struggle with it. It’s so important that we support children’s self-esteem while they are going through the process. It’s our responsibility to make sessions as fun as possible to motivate the children to participate and to put in strategies where we can to reduce the frustration that they can feel day to day.
Here are some tips to do that:-
• Recognise that this is hard! This sounds like a small thing but it is huge and often the thing that makes the biggest difference! Sometimes it can be easy to forget how difficult this skill is for them to learn. For example, if a child can say “fff”, it can seem like a really small step to say “fish” or “five”. However, it isn’t! If the child you are working with can’t do it, it’s unlikely to be because they are not trying. They may well be doing the best that they can – the next step is just too tricky right now! Tell them that you know it is hard and praise them for trying – regularly! Trying your best is all that you can ask from anyone!
• Keep it engaging! Use games, stickers, stampers, bubbles, anything that keeps the sessions fun. I motivate kids with fun things to get them to do what I need them to. I reward young children with a sticker at the end of the session, but I build in mini-rewards all the time – they can take a turn at a favourite game every time they try or maybe once they have done the game I have chosen, they might get to choose the next one. Rewards are motivating and help the child to know that you are aware that they are doing their best.
• Help and support the child. Now, I’m not suggesting that you do everything for them as obviously they need to learn how to do it. However, if they are struggling, prompt and support them. We have some posts on how to prompt here and here. For example, if the child is struggling with a sound, I might use a sign for the sound, or make the mouth shape myself to get them partway there. Do anything you can to enable the child to have success most of the time.
• Review your targets regularly. If your child is struggling with the practise work every single time, then maybe the skill is too hard and they are not ready yet. Consider changing the focus on moving back a step. Failing every time they try does not support anyone’s self-esteem or encourage them to keep on trying!
• Focus on things that they are good at. Of course some time (ideally every day) needs to go into practising speech and language skills. However, don’t overdo it either. Don’t pick the child up on it every single time they make a mistake – have particular practise times but outside of those make sure that most of the time, you are focussing on what the child is saying not how they are saying it. Spend time on things they are good at and enjoy and praise them for that as well.
• Allow for a bad day! We all have bad days. Some days I can write clear, succinct reports (and blog posts) really quickly. Other days it takes me lots more attempts to get across what I want to say clearly! Some days I’m tired, or feel ill or hungry or distracted! Kids are just the same. As with any type of learning, some days will be better than others and it may feel like you are taking two steps forward and one step back at times. This is life- stay positive, don’t push too hard and try again another day if it becomes clear that the child has had enough.
• Give them time and space. Recognise that a child with speech and language difficulties is likely to need more time to understand or get their message across. Try to give them this time whenever you can. (I know this can be a challenge in a busy classroom!) Sometimes the whole thing might just become a bit overwhelming and they just need a break from the whole situation. This is ok and can be the most important thing for them right now.
What else do you do to support children’s self-esteem when you are working with them? It’s such an important thing to do – I’m always looking for new ideas.
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