If you have an older child, preteen, or teenager who needs speech therapy, you may not be sure how to bring it up with them. Your child may not realize they need help with their speech, language, or communication skills. You may wonder how they’ll take the news and if they’ll be willing to participate.
Here at Expressable, many parents and caregivers of older kids ask us, “How do I talk to my child about starting speech therapy?”
As with so many parenting questions, if only there was a handbook to follow! While there’s no one answer that will apply to every family, we can certainly share some suggestions, tips, and things to consider when preparing your child to start speech therapy. Read on to learn more about how to approach the conversation.
First, recognize how you’re feeling
Starting speech therapy is a big decision. Maybe you’ve noticed that your child doesn’t always pronounce certain sounds right, like the /r/ sound or /s/ sound. Perhaps they are stuttering, or maybe they need help with their social and interpersonal skills.
As kids progress through school and enter their teen years, they begin to grow more independent, and they’re more aware of their friends’ opinions. You may wonder if your teen will feel self-conscious about starting speech therapy. Your child may not even realize they have a communication issue, so they may not understand the need for therapy. These are all normal things for caregivers to wonder–or worry–about.
If you’re feeling stressed, nervous, anxious, or simply like you want to put off having the conversation, you are not alone. The most important thing to remember is that you’re doing this from a place of love, and you’re keeping what’s best for your child top of mind.
Tips for talking with your child about speech therapy
Here are some helpful tips and suggestions for having a conversation about speech therapy with your child or teen.
Don’t wait until the last minute before speech therapy is set to begin. The more prepared your child is, the better. This will give them time to think it through, get used to the idea, and ask questions.
Try to bring up the topic as naturally as possible. If your child has difficulty communicating, start the discussion at a time when it’s just the two of you, with no one else around. You could say something like, “That word was a little tricky for you. I’ve noticed some words can be harder to say. Have you ever noticed this?” See what they say, and take the conversation from there.
If you’re not sure when a natural opportunity may arise, schedule a time to talk with your child and stick to it. Make sure that it’s only the two of you; this may help your child open up and feel safer discussing their speech.
Don’t assume that the conversation will be negative. Go in with an open mind. If your child is aware of their speech issues, they may even be relieved that you’re offering a way to help them!
Take the time to really listen to what your child is saying. Answer any questions they have. If you can’t answer some of their questions about speech therapy, assure them that you’ll get the information from their speech therapist.
Try doing something fun after the conversation! You could have a meal at their favorite restaurant, go for ice cream, visit a park or another place they enjoy, or play a game or do a craft together.
Now let’s talk about the wording you can use. Remember, you know your child best. But if you need some general guidelines or thought starters, try this:
“I’ve noticed you have had some difficulty with _______ when you’re talking with others. I found a great speech therapist who helps people with these kinds of things. What would you think about visiting with them to see if this is something you’d benefit from?”
It’s likely that your child will start asking questions or making statements that reveal how they feel. Pay attention to what they’re telling you, verbally or nonverbally, and respond from there.
Pay attention to what your child is telling you, verbally or nonverbally, and respond from there.
Remember, it’s OK if you need to have a few conversations about this topic with your child. Starting speech therapy may feel like a big event to them. That’s why it’s so important to allow enough time for discussing and processing it all before their first day. This will likely make things go much more smoothly!
Find out what motivates your child
As kids get older, self-motivation in speech therapy is a huge key to success. Older kids and teens need to be motivated to make progress for themselves, not for anyone else.
During your conversation with your child, you could try to learn what may be motivating for them. Ask if there’s anything they’d like to improve in. It could be something like gaining the confidence to order food at a restaurant, speak up in class, or talk with friends on the bus. Then, explain how speech therapy will help them achieve these goals.
Establishing what’s important to your child now will help them see the benefit of having speech therapy. The speech therapist will also find ways to target your child’s goals in therapy.
What to expect during speech therapy for an older child
At the beginning of speech therapy, your child or teen will have an evaluation. This assessment will help the speech therapist identify your child’s current strengths and weaknesses. It will also give them a starting point for specific goals to target during therapy.
The therapist will create a treatment plan with individualized goals for your child. They should then review this with both you and your child. Be sure to bring up any specific requests or questions that you or your child have. Your speech therapist will want your child’s plan to be as tailored to them as possible.
How often will your child or teen have speech therapy? The frequency will be recommended by their speech therapist. For most people, this is once a week. Some may have speech therapy twice a week, and others may attend every other week.
Sessions will target your child’s specific goals. The therapist will do this in a way that keeps the sessions fun and engaging, so they feel less like work for your child! They’ll likely use interactive games and conversations about topics your kiddo cares about.
Speech therapy practice makes progress
Your speech therapist should consistently provide home tasks and exercises that your child can work on before their next appointment. Home practice is vital to a person's success–more practice leads to faster progress.
While much progress is made during therapy sessions, to maintain those new skills, kids have to practice throughout the week. That way when they show up for the next session, they can pick up right where they left off. How often your child practices can also affect how long they’re in speech therapy.
Starting speech therapy can feel tricky for both child and caregiver. Take these tips and apply them in a way you think your child or teen will respond to best. And most important, be proud of what you’re doing for your child. You’ve seen a need and you’re responding to it. While the conversation may not be easy, you can do it–and one day your child will be glad you did.