Top tips for working on your child’s speech and language targets

The speech therapy process is very much a collaborative one.  Even if your child is lucky enough to get regular speech therapy sessions, that's still only half-an-hour or an hour a week.  We can't be there all the time, so your speech therapist should collaborate with school and nursery staff as well as giving you targets and ideas on how to work on your child's speech and language skills at home too.
If you're able to do this, it really helps.  However, we are also very aware that you have hundreds of other things taking up your time as well, especially if you have a child with complex needs, other children, a job etc.  No doubt your child's school also give you things to practise and if they are having other therapies too, you may feel overwhelmed by too many strategies and suggestions and feel guilty that you can't achieve it all as just getting to the end of the day seemed like an achievement!
Also, you may feel that your child has so many targets and strategies that you can't even remember them all and it's totally unachievable to do it all!  I think as professionals we try to be over-helpful sometimes and write down lots of targets and every strategy we can think of that might work, but of course you can't do it all at once! Obviously it's great if you are able to do some practise, but don't let it stress you out and make you feel guilty if your whole week goes to pot sometimes and nothing gets done!  There are only so many hours in a day!

Top tips for working on your child's speech and language targets

How to make it work for you

That said, how can we make speech therapy practise as painless as possible? Firstly, the appointments themselves:-

  • Reduce your own stress by making sure you know exactly what will happen beforehand and how long it will take.  Call in advance and ask if you need to.
  • Tell your child that the therapist is going to have a chat and play some games. Don't tell them to "talk to the lady/man".
  • We want to see your child as they really are. If your child is acting out of character or having a bad day, do tell the therapist, but don't feel bad about it. This is life!
  • Let your child take their favourite toy with them if they want to (only proviso would be preferably not a tablet).  I will always incorporate the child's toy into my session if I can!
  • Don't feel bad about a bit of bribery!  I use bribery in many of my sessions - the child does what I want and then I will let them choose an activity at the end.  If it helps, offer them time on the tablet or doing a favourite activity or a sweet after the session.  (Just no food bribes actually during the session as talking is tricky when the child is chewing!)

Making home practise work

Then, how on earth do you get any practise done at home? Firstly there are many different ways to do it.  For some families, sitting down for 5-10 minutes at the same time each day is the best way to do it.  For others, this sort of routine doesn't work so well.  I have sometimes had parents say to me apologetically "we haven't actually sat down with the cards but we have practised a lot when we've been out and about".  Great!  No problem!  If you're not doing it at a particular time though, just make sure you find a way of to remember it.

  • Stick a list of words or targets on the fridge to help you remember.  For example, if your child is working on the "c/k" sound at the beginning of words write car, cup, cat, kicking and stick it on your fridge to remind you to pick up on those few words from time to time when your child is talking.  Equally, you could write "ed" if you're working on past tense verbs or "he she" if your child is working on pronouns.  Anything that gives you a reminder.  If your child can read, get them to read the list each day.  If they can't, maybe draw pictures so that they can act as a reminder for your child as well as you.
  • Use those empty slots of time when you're waiting for something and the child is bored.  If you're waiting in the queue at the checkout (and your child doesn't find this a challenging situation) look around with your child and see if they can tell you what people are doing or play a game such as describing something around you for them to guess.
  • Praise your child when you hear them doing something really well.  Use really specific praise, such as "I heard a great f sound in that work, well done" or "I love that word that you used, what a great word".  A little bit of praise is a great way to encourage a child to do something again without feeling nagged.
  • Involve siblings.  Now, I realise this may be tricky, depending on the relationships your children have with each other and their ages/ needs. However, older children often like to feel they are helping so get them to sit and have a go too.  Maybe have a chat to them 1:1 beforehand to explain how they are going to be grown up and help and that it's really important they don't give all the answers etc.
  • With younger kids, some children respond well to "teaching" their younger sibling. Obviously, this becomes more problematic if the younger sibling can do something the older one can't, so you do have to judge for your own situation.
  • Experiment with different times of day to see what works.  It can be useful to tag it onto something that happens each day anyway, such as tooth brushing or bedtime.  However, that may be the last time that you can get your head round doing another thing!  Would after school work?  Or sitting in the car if you have arrived somewhere early? Try different things to see what works for you and your family.

Finally, speech therapy doesn't always have to be an extra thing.  There are so many ways that you can support your child's therapy targets in everyday life.  Check out some of these posts for ideas about working on language skills when shopping, mealtimes, bathtime, bedtime and a trip to the park.
See more posts from the SpeechBlog team here.

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Helen Coleman SpeechBlogUK
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Helen Coleman SpeechBlogUK

Speech & Language Therapist at Speech Blog UK
Helen is a speech and language therapist with more than 10 years' experience of working with children, families and schools.She is a regular columnist for Special Needs Jungle and also blogs jointly with Elizabeth Gunner at Speechbloguk.
Helen Coleman SpeechBlogUK
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