How you are getting in the way of your child’s progress

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we often lose sight of the things we have to be thankful for. Because of this, I really appreciate Thanksgiving’s reminder to reflect on the past year, put aside all the challenges, and focus on what I can be thankful for. While many of us do this every Thanksgiving, very few of us do this all year. Being in the “change” business, I find myself constantly needing to remind parents to be thankful for the positive changes their children have made. Many parents are too hard on their children, and it gets in the way of progress.

While I am talking about this from a therapy perspective, it is not unique to therapy. It happens with schoolwork, sports, music, and pretty much every area parents critique progress. The number one reason kids stop playing soccer, is because they are tired of listening to their parents. Where a parent sees encouragement, a child sees disappointment and criticism.

While parents don’t get as crazy with therapy as they do with sports, some do make comments that impede progress.

Articulation therapy is a place where I often see this. For example, when a child learns a new sound in isolation, a parent will say something like, “Wow, that sounds great –now if you could only do that while talking.” While the comment may be well intentioned, it is a bit of a backhanded compliment. It is easy to see the child deflate when this happens. And then I have to explain to the parents that, in speech therapy, a child must master a sound at many levels before s/he can be expected to use the sound while having a conversation. Learning new sounds in speech therapy is like building a house. You need to have a solid foundation to build on, or you will never have a strong house. It is critical to appreciate the small changes and give your child the encouragement needed to make the big changes.

Feeding therapy is another area where parents must be very patient. Change will happen in very small steps. Sometimes I see kids take leaps towards big changes. However, progress is usually slow and steady. If we don’t appreciate the little changes, a child sees no reason to strive for the big goals. They feel hopeless and often give up. So adding one new food for a child with severe anxiety around eating should be seen and appreciated.

As a therapist, I like the saying “little hinges swing big doors” because I know that little changes lead to big breakthroughs. I also know how hard each child has worked to make that progress. So I get very excited for every tiny bit of progress. Sometimes these changes are very small, and easy for parents to miss. Other times, parents recognize the achievement, and then quickly forget as their child is struggling to clear their next hurdle. When that happens, I always remind the parents of their child’s past accomplishments. I will often say “just last month your child was struggling to accomplish X and now look at how easy it is for him. Please don’t lose sight of this. With hard work and dedication, more change will come.” It is important to acknowledge positive changes in our kids while not letting them, or ourselves, lose sight of the big goals. So whether you are bringing your child to therapy, working on their math skills, their social skills, or maybe just their tidiness, be mindful of the little things. Notice the small changes. Beware of excess criticism. While our kids need our honesty and guidance in order to change, criticism alone will have an opposite effect than the one you are hoping for.

Just as you would expect from your kids, choose your words wisely. Make an effort each and every day to notice the little changes, and be thankful for them. Without the little changes, there will be no big changes.

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Isa Marrs

Isa Marrs is a board-certified speech-language pathologist who specializes in articulation, pragmatic language and feeding disorders in children. Read More