My first speech-language session with 3-year old energetic and enthusiastic Ryan went something like this: rock on a chair and fling toys across the table - break out into a “fit of rage” – scream and pound himself on the floor – dump out a bin of toys - lash out violently at his mom as she tried to calm him down. There was no much commotion, I was afraid of neighbors calling the police.
What I Learned from Ryan that will help Your Child too…
Here’s how I used and adapted my top communication strategies, along with what I learned from Ryan.
- Show me the Fun
Because kids thrive with structure and visual pictures to aid their understanding of what they’re going to do; – using a picture schedule is a great idea.
When we first began to use a picture schedule, Ryan preferred to hurl the pictures across the room.
Here’s how I made up a fun game…
After each activity, Ryan peeled off the related schedule picture and then he “feed” a toy. Once he had finished all activities, Ryan delighted in earning a reinforcer that he got to chose from a cool bag filled with tiny toys he found exciting.
- Flattery and Focus on Benefits
I began by talking with Ryan using simpler language. Using lower level vocabulary and shorter, simpler sentences makes it easier for kids to understand what others say and ask them to do.
Using simple language did not motivate Ryan to follow through with my suggestions.
Here’s what I discovered…
Ryan loved hearing the benefits or receiving praise before I gave him a request using simple and positive language. “Hey Ryan; -Your teacher has a special story! You get to sit quietly and listen to your teacher read!” “You are such a good helper, Ryan! You get to put these cars into this bucket!”
- Kids love Listening to Puppets
It’s helpful for kids to be face-to-face and to maintain eye contact while attending and listening to directions. Ryan did not like to make eye contact, especially when he was asked to do something.
Here’s I how used a favorite toy... Ryan loved puppets – almost as much as I do! When I used a puppet to give Ryan directions for good listening skills during circle time or to transition between activities – he laughed and willingly followed the directions.
What’s a puppet’s secret? A puppet’s eyes don’t move making it easier for Ryan to face the puppet, which was held close to my face. Because listening to and watching an animated puppet was so fun, Ryan didn’t mind following the puppet’s directions.
- Use Better Words
I showed Ryan a gesture plus a picture when it was time to end one of his favorite activities as using visuals makes it easier for kids to understand what others say.
As soon as Ryan heard “trigger” words like “stop”, “all done” or “end” while he was playing with a toy he adored, he became enraged, even when these words were paired with visuals.
Here’s what I changed…. Once I substituted these “trigger” words with the expression, "Put it on pause.", Ryan began to trust that he would get to do his favorite activity again and soon
- Act it Out using toy characters
I read a social story about desirable listening behaviours with Ryan many times. Kids benefit from repeatedly hearing social stories and looking at their related visual pictures.
This wasn’t enough to fully help Ryan with his story comprehension and memory.
Here’s how active learning was added…
We engaged in pretend play and acted out the social story. Ryan laughed while we role-played the difference between problem and desirable listening behaviours with the toy characters. He especially enjoyed responding to the toys as a parent or teacher would. Ryan’ began use desirable listening skills in class.
Learning from kids is valuable – even as an experienced SLP. When I listen, watch and join in; -I discover the best ways to adapt my communication strategies for their unique personalities and strengths.
I’m curious to know how you’ll tweak these strategies to help your child listen, follow directions &/or understand what you’re saying or reading.