When my son was 4.5 years old, he needed to see a speech pathologist for a significant difficulty he had with his pronunciation. At the end of the first session I felt light and hopeful that this might really help. The Speech Pathologist sent us home with some exercises to do. And then came the challenge: getting my son to practise!
Well, I tried everything. I tried making them fun but he hated it anyway, he just put his fingers in his ears and made silly noises. I tried some Playlistening – getting his teddies to do it, pretending it was a really stupid idea, and putting them in the bin, etc. I got a few laughs, but it didn’t help him want to do the exercises. So I tried setting limits – first playfully “oh, yessy, yes, yes, we’re going to do our sounds practise,” and letting him run away and giggle as he hid from me, but that didn’t work. Then seriously, “We’re going to do our sounds practise,” but all he would do is say silly words and throw our sheets of paper away. I was beginning to lose my patience and my ability to think.
Listening Time for me! I vented to my Listening Partner on my frustration and let my feelings of overwhelm and confusion flow. How on earth was I going to get him to practise? This was just too hard…
For the first time in 4 years of using Parenting by Connection ideas, I was thinking I would just have to resort to the rewards approach the speech pathologist had suggested. I really couldn’t see any other way. We had to practise or the therapy was a waste of time; maybe just this once I had to let go of my beliefs and do whatever it took to get the practise done. And just as my mind was starting to think about what kind of rewards system to set up, another idea flashed through my head and I found myself saying to my son, “Okay today we’re going to have a Special Time Sandwich.” This wasn’t pre-planned, it just popped out my mouth. “After breakfast, we’ll have 10 minutes of Special Time, then sounds practise, and then 20 minutes of Special Time.” He looked interested.
Well, much to my amazement, when it got to sounds practise he was fully engaged. He tried really hard to do the exercises. I could hardly believe it. So we tried the Special Time Sandwich the next day and the same thing happened. He was fully part of it and even had ideas like “can you hide the sound cards around the room and I’ll find them and say the word.” The next day he brought his teddy and made it do the practise and get everything wrong . I started to hear him practising the sounds by himself during the day. He would ask me questions about words like “is it skittle or stittle?” After about five days of this he came up to me at the end of the day saying, “could we do some more sounds practise today , I really enjoy it.” He wasn’t asking for special time, just the sounds practice!
And, interestingly, he became increasingly frustrated when he wasn't understood. He started to get quite angry and start crying when I couldn't make out his words. This was loud anger that I found quite hard to listen to and my heart ached for the frustration he was feeling. But I did manage to listen and the anger would turn to tears.
He made fantastic progress. The speech pathologist was impressed – and so was I! His speech came along in leaps and bounds.
I think what happened was that he could feel all the effort I put into helping him try and practise. He kept letting me know he couldn’t do it the ways I was suggesting. I have a hunch that if I’d have dived straight in with the Special Time Sandwich it might not have worked. I think he needed to feel that I was on his side, that I was partnering with him.
—Rachel Schofield, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor (living in Australia)
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