How Can We Help Motivate Kids in Therapy?

When kids are motivated, they're more likely to work hard to do their best, says Speech-Language Pathologist Albiona Rakipi, MA, CCC-SLP from Kaufman Children's Center.

One of the best ways to ensure successful therapy is to discover what motivates the child. Toys, treats and activities they love that can be used to encourage them to participate fully in sessions.

This method is used across the board in our speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and applied behavior analysis (ABA) autism programs. Whether your child is receiving therapy virtually (teletherapy) or in person, establishing motivation is necessary to achieve successful outcomes.

Discovering the right encouragement for each child takes time, effort and planning. We begin by building trust and trying to figure out their likes and dislikes. Developing a bond and winning the child’s trust is important.

Children have to know that when you place a demand on them, they will be positively reinforced with one of their highly preferred items or activities. When a difficult task is paired with something the child enjoys, the task itself becomes a positive experience.

Parents can reinforce this by promising something special if the child works hard in therapy. Be sure to communicate this with your therapist, so you’re all on the same page.

Once you discover how to motivate the child, it’s important to keep them motivated by making them feel successful. If every demand we place on a child is difficult, their motivation will decrease. Mixing in activities that are easier helps give them frequent feelings of achievement.

Praise is so important. We make sure children know how pleased and excited we are about all their hard work. Children will often match this energy level, so it’s important that we remain enthusiastic. If you’re able to observe, be sure to compliment your child on something specific they did during the session, such as, “I like the way you said ‘open’ when you wanted the box opened.”

We often ask parents to participate in teletherapy sessions and provide the child with some of their favorites at home to reinforce positive behaviors. Positive behaviors include sitting and attending to the screen, participating in tasks and answering questions.

Toys are great reinforcers for young children; digital games or short videos may work better for older kids.

Therapy should feel and look fun. Children should feel challenged, successful, and reinforced. When you discover new and interesting things that motivate your child, don’t hesitate to share them with your therapist.

Brought to you by Kaufman Children’s Center. Visit kidspeech.com for more information on their speech, language, sensory motor and social connections services.

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