Speech therapy for kids can do wonders for children struggling with common childhood speech and language issues. But as many parents know, the work doesn’t stop when your child leaves the session at the therapist’s office.
In fact, experts say parents play a vital role in the effectiveness of speech therapy for kids.
“It’s so important for parents to be involved in their child’s process of learning speech and language,” says Alyssa Capeling, a senior speech-language pathologist at Children’s Hospital of Michigan. “I think it makes a huge difference in how much progress their child will make and how much time it takes to make that progress.”
After all, children typically see a speech therapist an average of twice per week.
“They are with their parents all of the rest of those waking hours if they’re not in school,” she says. “Even if they come and do amazing work in the session, if they go home and do nothing that therapy will really have little impact on their overall change.”
But if parents are involved, it can make all the difference, Capeling says. If you have a child with a speech delay or other challenges, here are some tips for how to get the most out of speech therapy for kids.
Attend therapy sessions
Parents are usually invited to sit in on a child’s speech therapy sessions, Capeling says.
“If parents can come into the session in my opinion that’s the ideal situation,” she says. “(The parent) is actively involved in each of the therapeutic activities so they can get a feel for how the therapist cues their child and what type of feedback the therapist gives the child in order to get the child performing the way they need to perform.”
In situations where the child has more difficulty with the parent in the room, some clinics offer observation rooms with one-way mirrors so that the parent can watch without the child getting distracted.
The hands-on learning parents will get by attending their child’s therapy sessions is invaluable, Capeling says. Parents should also feel free to ask their child’s therapist, “Am I doing this right?” or “What can I do better?” when it comes to how you implement techniques at home, she says.
Keep it positive
When working on your child’s speech therapy goals at home, be sure to keep the interactions positive and fun, suggests speech-language pathologist Nancy Kaufman, director of the Kaufman Children’s Center in West Bloomfield.
“They can learn how to help their children at home by working on speech and language through positive attention and fun games rather than drill,” she says.
Instead of trying to correct all of a child’s mistakes at once, parents can choose a few words or skills to focus on each week.
“Find an item or activity that is highly preferred by the child and help them to work toward receiving it or participating in the activity,” Kaufman says. “Speech and language is hard work. We can’t blame them from thinking, ‘what’s in it for me?’ (regarding practice).”
Mom and dad’s enthusiasm is likely to make a difference, too.
“A positive and encouraging disposition by the parents regarding practice is contagious,” she says, and helps build self-esteem in children with speech issues.
Share what you know
As a parent, you are the expert in your child, Capeling says. Since the therapist has limited time with your son or daughter, it’s crucial for parents to share what’s happening at home, where the child is struggling and what progress the child has made.
“I think it needs to be this dynamic relationship with the therapist and the parent to make the best progress for the child,” she says. “Then you have the best environment for learning for the child and for the parent.”
Express any concerns
One common problem is when parents don’t feel comfortable expressing concerns about the therapy program, Capeling says. The parents might be unhappy with certain therapy strategies or even what games the therapist plays with the child, or they might not understand the “homework” the therapist recommends.
“I see breakdowns happen when you don’t set the stage from day one that you’re going to have this open communication style,” Capeling says.
This post was originally published in 2015 and is updated regularly.