Monday, March 7, 2016

What Six Years of Rehab Therapy Has Taught Me About Parenting

Lessons learned from rehab therapy

For the past six years, I’ve attended some kind of (at least) weekly therapy with my kids. We’ve done speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy. I’ve learned a lot of very specific knowledge during that time. I could dazzle you with my dizzying array of acronyms and medical-related jargon, but I won’t (You’re welcome).

But as beneficial as the specifics have been, therapy has provided me a wealth of generalized knowledge about parenting and life.

1. Trial and Error is King – The goal in therapy is not to get something right on the first try. The goal is to find a way to complete the task so that it’s consistently done right. In other words, success isn’t a hole in one; it’s consistently getting the ball in the hole. To succeed, you have to be willing to fail.

2. Empathy Is Essential – Struggling to learn a new skill isn’t fun, at any age. When we see our kids having a hard time, our first instinct is often to give a pep talk that encourages “doing your best.” But that speech doesn’t allow the other person to feel heard. You’ll get a lot of traction from phrases like: “I wish we didn’t have to to this” or “I know this isn’t easy.”

Being empathetic diffuses the tension and offers support, not judgment.

3. Hard Work Should Be RewardedEveryone wants their child to be intrinsically motivated - a personal sense of accomplishment and self-satisfaction will get you much further in life than a .25¢ sticker ever will. But children, especially young children, need to be encouraged and rewarded for their efforts.

Even when your kids aren’t meeting the objective, notice their hard work. Praise their efforts and determination. Admire their persistence. When they do get it right, acknowledge that. It’s amazing how excitedly kids respond to a high five or a hug as a way to celebrate  achievement. We offer nightly “shout outs” for things our family members do well throughout the day. Productive therapy sessions are often included in our shout outs (and when we forget, the hardworking child is quick to remind us).

4. Compromise is Key – Therapists, I’ve noticed are more likely to respond “yes” to a child’s request than they are “no.” They just find a way to meet in the middle: “Yes, you can play that game, after we finish this.” “Yes, you can sit under the table, if you do your exercises down there.”

When they do say no, they offer options. “No, we can’t do x, but would your rather do y or z instead?” Or “We’re out of time today, so we can’t do that. Would you like to do that next time?”

Kids are far more willing to work for someone if they feel like that person is willing to work with them.

5. The Right Equipment Is Crucial – A big part of therapy is adaptive equipment. That’s because if you don’t have the right tools, you can’t get the job done. The same is true in life. If you or your kids are struggling, evaluate your equipment. Do you have the proper tools for the task?

While we often think of equipment as tangible tools, it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes the right equipment might be a tutor or using an online reading program that reads aloud with a child instead of having them just work through the phonics themselves.

A personal note for anyone just headed into the therapy trenches: If you have a child who needs therapy of any kind, it can be daunting. Therapy is time-consuming, laborious and often expensive. But allow me to offer you this perspective six years in the making. In therapy, your child will be learning far more than how to sound out their “s’s” or button their shirt. They’re be learning life-skills like: problem-solving, adaptability and relationship-building. These skills will serve them (and you) for a lifetime. Go forth and conqueror.

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