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The Parent Coaching Model: Why and How it Works

We’re honored to have the chance to work with you and your child, and we want you to have the information you need to get the most out of speech therapy. So today we’re going to discuss a key part of speech therapy success: the parent coaching model. 

If this is your first experience with online speech therapy, it may feel a bit new to you. After all, it’s only recently that many of us have started attending classes, work meetings, or even doctor’s appointments online.

While it may feel new, online speech therapy offers a lot of benefits to kids and their families. One of these benefits is the parent coaching model. With this approach, the parent or caregiver attends sessions alongside their child, and the speech therapist equips you with the tools and techniques you need to help improve your child’s communication. 

Research shows that coaching parents to get involved in their child’s speech therapy helps kids make more progress, more quickly. Let’s take a look at how and why it works so well.

OK, raise your hand if you’ve ever thought–or maybe heard from a friend or family member–“How can you expect such a young child to sit and look at a screen for 30 minutes of speech therapy?”

I’ve heard this concern lots of times. But here’s a little secret: This isn’t actually how online speech therapy was designed to work! Yes, there is a screen involved. And yes, your speech therapist will use fun and interactive on-screen activities to keep your little one engaged. But online speech therapy is so much more than just sitting and looking at the therapist.

To make speech therapy sessions engaging, and to encourage the most language growth possible, parents and caregivers need to be a vital part of the process. Children learn best from the people they spend the most time with and love the most–that’s you! That’s why the partnership you form with your child’s speech therapist is so important.

Online speech therapy sessions are tailored for each family. When treating young children, we recommend the parent or caregiver attend the session. Your speech therapist will focus on coaching you as well as your child. They’ll give you the knowledge and tools you need to help improve your child’s communication abilities, and they’ll teach you how to use these strategies throughout the week. Your speech therapist is always there to provide support and guidance along the way, and you can easily text them whenever you have a question.

So why use this model? While your speech therapist brings clinical expertise to the table, you bring expertise on your child. Numerous research studies have shown that when parents play an active role in their child’s intervention–as opposed to being a passive observer–children make much more progress toward their goals.

I know this might seem easier said than done. When a child is diagnosed with a speech or language problem, parents enter a new and unfamiliar world. From evaluations to treatment plans to therapy exercises, you might feel a bit overwhelmed. It may be tempting to rely on a speech therapist to “fix” the problem. But while your speech therapist will provide guidance and use specific techniques to improve your child’s communication, there’s no substitute for your unique role in reinforcing those strategies at home. There are several reasons for this:

1. You know your child best!

Again, while your speech therapist will strive to understand your child’s personality and learning style, they can never match your intuitive connection with your child. By working closely with your therapist, you can develop a treatment plan perfectly tailored to your little one. 2. Learning happens all day, every day.

Your speech therapist spends a limited time with your child every week. Whether a child is learning to imitate words, pronounce a sound, or comprehend simple sentences, these skills must be routinely practiced and reinforced. Families have the advantage of spending ample time with their children. And considering children learn to communicate during everyday activities and conversations, no one is better positioned to do that than you. Speech therapy doesn’t require a computer and chair; you can use bathtime, playtime, and even trips to the store to make progress on your child’s speech and language goals. These everyday settings allow them to put their new communication skills into practice. 3. Your home is a comforting environment for learning.

Think about it: Many people feel uneasy or uncomfortable when walking into a doctor’s or therapist’s office. Working with your child at home, in an environment that’s familiar, is a stress-free way to test the new skills they’ve learned. It’s also a reason more and more families are turning to online speech therapy.

So these are some of the reasons we embrace the parent coaching model at Expressable. But don’t just take our word for it. There’s plenty of research supporting the success of this model.

Here’s one example: A study conducted at Vanderbilt University evaluated the effectiveness of “parent-implemented intervention” among groups of parents trained to promote their child’s communication. The study found that parents were able to understand and learn the strategies taught by speech therapists, and they could successfully use them with their child. These parents had a positive effect on their child’s communication development. Their children showed improvement in both verbal and nonverbal communication skills. In fact, the parents were just as effective at helping their child as the speech therapists were.

As this and other studies show, coaching parents can make a real difference in children’s speech and language skills. While parental involvement can’t replace speech therapy, it helps progress happen much more quickly.

Now let’s take a look at how parent coaching might work during an actual speech therapy session. We’ll use play as an example, since children acquire language skills through play-based activities. And playing gives kids a chance to practice new skills, too. While we often think of play as taking a break from work, it’s quite the opposite. Play is how children learn and explore the world around them, and it’s a fun way to weave in speech and language practice.

For each speech therapy session, a speech therapist might ask the parent or  caregiver to have a few toys or activities on hand to engage their child. Depending on your child’s age, these could be as simple as bubbles, a ball, Play-Doh, a card game, or crayons and paper. While the therapist can initiate play activities virtually and mirror the actions that are happening in the home, it’s essential for parents to be active participants.

Your speech therapist will introduce different techniques and show you how to use them to expand language during play. Examples might include:

  • Offering a choice of two toys and having your child pick

  • Waiting to take a turn until your child says “go”

  • Rolling a ball back and forth to mimic a conversational exchange

  • Using toys for their intended purpose, like making food with a toy kitchen or speaking on a pretend phone

  • Targeting identification questions, like “Where is the dog?” or “Show me the red block.”

  • Modeling a new speech sound for your child during a game of Go-Fish

  • Or, practicing stuttering techniques while making a craft together

Let’s say your child is working on imitating words. With parent coaching, the speech therapist would give you instructions for what toy to present, how to model the word to help your child imitate, and what to do if your child is having trouble. The speech therapist is right there to offer guidance and support during the session. They can give you tips and make recommendations in real time.

So to wrap up, what makes the parent coaching method so effective and rewarding is that the caregiver is eliciting language from their child, not the speech therapist. The speech therapist is there to introduce new ideas, teach techniques, and provide support throughout speech therapy sessions. You learn how to teach your child these new skills.

And as a result, it’s much easier for your child to learn and practice throughout the week and between speech therapy sessions. Practicing at home, with you, leads to more progress at a faster rate.

At Expressable, we use parent coaching as our primary model of speech treatment for younger children because of the important role a caregiver plays in their child’s development. Research shows that caregiver-led involvement works. After all, you are the expert in your child. We’re experts in communication. Let’s help your child learn and grow together!

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