Talk the therapy talk, top 5 therapist tips

Talk, talk, talk, some times it feels like all I do is talk! Buuuuut as any advocate of therapeutic parenting knows, there is “talk” and there is “therapy talk”, lately I have done more of the first, and less of the last, and the results show that ratio needs to change.
Lately the talk has been “talking at” not talking to, and “generalized words” instead of specific requests, and the results speak for themselves.  I am currently getting a failing grade in therapeutically parenting (I had high hopes of one day being able to stop parenting this way, but now resign myself to the fact that this is my life, for evermore, oh well so be it, I may as well do it right!)
So, in the hopes that repeating these top tips for the umpteenth time will cement them in my own mind, and possibly help someone else who is walking this road, here are they are. Gleaned from years of therapists of all varieties, specialists of many degrees and letters, and more educationist books than many read for college, the top things I have learned about talking the “therapy talk”:

Tip one: KISS
Keep it simple silly. Hardest, best advice ever given by a therapist, especially for this very loquacious and creative mommy! Keep it simple, no dissertation on hand washing after bathroom use, no commentary, just simple directions, “go, wash your hands, please”

Tip two: be specific

This goes with keep it simple, if you want them to use soap when washing, say so.  If you want them to wear socks with their winter boots, in the half foot of sloppy wet snow, then you had better say so, along with the direction to “get you boots on”.  Oh, and specify that please, “get your snow boots on, after you put socks on, please”.  Thinking that they will remember, or think of these things is just a lesson in futility, some days they might surprise you, but most of the time, the direction will change from mud room closet toward bedroom drawers when specificity is added, and your sanity and patience will be saved:-)

Tip three: be concrete
Using concrete language may be one of the most underutilized parts of therapeutic parenting. How many times do you catch yourself saying “we’re going into the store now, I need you to be good so we can get this done, this century!!!” Well, to your/my sweet monkey child “good” is a very flexible idea, to my monkey “good” is skipping through the aisles, impervious to the other carts and shoppers. Singing loudly any old song that comes to mind is “good” music to him, maybe notsomuch me:). You get my drift. How about “be nice” generally accompanied by a death-glare or firm grip on the shoulder, well he was being nice when he “played tag” with his sister and shoved her into the wall, “be gentle” also falls into this category in our house.
Now, these are mild versions of the non-concrete words we all use every day, but the most common ones we get frustrated with our kids about. A better option is to tell our child ” we’re going into the store now, I want you to hold onto the cart, keep your other hand in your pocket and listen to mommy the whole time, and once we are done we can go home and you can run all you want, yelling loudly all you want!” See, concrete, stay with mom, listen, and for heavens sake do not pull over the whole stack of canned goods that is a calamity waiting to happen!!! Shopping can go much more smoothly if concrete words are used.

Tip four: follow through, or “Say, See, Do”
So, say you use concrete language, and nothing doin’! The monkey child still wanders off, grabs every bleeding roll of toilet paper off the shelf, or some other such thing, well then mom, you need to put on your big girl panties and “follow through”! This means a bunch of hard work, but once you have the hang of it, and your kiddo knows you are sticking to it, things will go much more smoothly, and you will again be the calm rational person you once remember being(it is a distant memory, but she was me, at one point:-)
In therapy, if the verbal instruction(as little movement as possible is best for the first direction) “little man, please put the balls into the bins” is not met with immediate(5-10 seconds) success, then follow through is engaged, right away! No waiting, no nagging, no bribing, follow through, immediately, restate the direction, this time add motions to it, actually pick up a ball and put it away, using the exact same directive as before, change nothing but adding the movement. Once you have added the movement, take the ball back out, hand ball to the child, and that should be the prompt to get them engaged in doing the job. Still, only give 10 seconds or so of lag time, if still not responding to direction follow through with last stage, ” little man, please put the balls into the bins” and this time I/you physically stand behind him, take his hands in mine, pick up a ball, and move/walk him over to place the ball in the bin. After doing this once or twice he should get the idea and follow the direction on his own.
This basic concept follows the principle that some kids need to hear something 2-3 times before they understand it(which is an auditory processing issue you should have checked out), and some learn in the auditory, the visual, or the kinesthetic way, this follow through method teaches to all of them in turn, and teaches your child to listen and respond to simple requests by forcing them to focus on you more.  The “Say, See, Do” method works very effectively, and in time you ideally should only have to get to the 3rd, “Do” part occasionally, especially as your kids get older and want more independence.

Tip Five:  Sing it out

This one is the silliest tip, but works well if kept in reserve, though my kids respond whenever I use this particular method:-)  Often, the body language and the words I am using just don’t match up, I am saying “Little man, let’s try that again!”  but the rest of me is all “please Lord, can we just get this (fill in the blank with what ever task your child struggle with) dang thing done, sometime this year!!!:-/”  Singing the direction helps to diffuse the tension, and distract him from my non-verbal cues, focusing him on the words and the lilting energy in them.  This may not always do the trick, but it often gets him to retry and I can regroup to be more helpful and supportive, so it tends to be a win-win.  This also works well in reminding siblings of special kids, who can get frustrated/annoyed with the time it takes for simple things to happen, that “patience and a willing hand will get it done faster:-)” smile and sing it and everyone will laugh and move on in better harmony.

I hope that one or more of these ideas, borrowed from greater minds than mine, will help you to talk the therapy talk to your special kids, and maybe bring a bit more peace and a whole lot less effort to your conversations.

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