It’s likely when you think of a speech-language pathologist, you think of them teaching a child to speak. And while that’s true, there’s so much more to communication than just talking or using words. Connection is just as important.
Communication is a two-way exchange of information, feelings, and ideas between two parties. If I only focus on teaching the child to use words, but they don’t have anyone to support them using those words, then our goal of communication has failed. One the other hand, if the listener only responds to words used and overlooks the nonverbal cues, then they have missed an opportunity for communication as well. That’s why I believe my job as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) is to empower caregivers with tools to communicate and connect with their children on a deeper level.
Focusing on Families
Involving the whole family in speech therapy is a relatively new idea. Just in the past 20 years or so have SLPs been making a shift to better support caregivers. However, I still think we should be doing more. I believe my job should also include strategies for language enrichment, positive discipline, and communicating with connection.
Although SLPs work in many different settings, I personally choose to serve families in their homes. I appreciate what an honor it is to be invited into someone’s home, because I know it can be a really vulnerable space. As I form relationships with other caregivers, I often realize an unspoken and desperate cry for help:
- A single mom with a newly-diagnosed child with Autism who is 4 years old and not talking.
- Parents of children who fight bedtime every single night.
- A mother of premature twins who is struggling to breastfeed even though she is still trying despite the pain and feeling of failure and disappointment.
- A grandfather who is trying to learn sign language on Youtube just to communicate with his granddaughter with hearing loss.
- Parents who dread the daily mealtime battles with their children.
Caregivers trying so hard to connect with their children, but also feeling stressed, guilty, ashamed, and disappointed in their own communication. Drowning in piles of laundry, dishes, and lack of sleep –barely surviving the “childhood chaos” and not knowing where to get help.
You’re absolutely right– many people wouldn’t think to call the SLP for help, especially if there’s no medical diagnosis or speech/language disorder. But I’m here asking you to give us a try as a communication expert.
As children develop and their needs change so quickly, it’s really hard to feel like we are communicating with them in the best way. Add a speech or language delay or medical condition on top of that and it seems hopeless. Doubting yourself. Wondering if this is normal. Stressed out to the max. Not knowing how to make a change.
It’s a lonely place to be.
But, I’m rooting for you and here to help! I fully believe in the power of communication with connection, and your ability to make a change for the better.
What is Communication with Connection?
Communication with connection means we, as the adults, change our perspective of children’s behavior and our expectations for their development. We must step past the role of being a caregiver and instead work to connect with our child as a person. Step away from the language goals for a minute and focus on connection. Through connection, communication will come.
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By three years of age, theory of mind has begun to develop, which is where the magic happens. Children at this age have their own opinions, questions, and are gaining independence. Did you know 80% of a child’s brain is formed by age 3?! Wow, right? BUT -they still do not have access to their executive mind in the prefrontal cortex. They cannot regulate their emotions, nor do they understand them. They cannot be as flexible when the schedule changes. They cannot keep it together all the time. So when we ask ourselves, “Why are they acting this way?!” it’s because they are still missing that crucial 20%! And unfortunately for us, children’s brains take about 25 years to completely develop, so we’ve got a wild ride.
Behavior is Communication
I view all behavior as communication. The child who hit his friend is telling me he’s frustrated. The child crying is telling me she’s overwhelmed, scared, or tired. The child being a wet noodle on the floor of the store is telling me they need a break. Every behavior tells me something, giving me information. That is communication. Connection comes when I choose to respond.
When we accept that all behavior is communication, and also remember our children’s brains are still developing, we are better able to show love and kindness. As adults we are able to self-regulate, re-gather ourselves, and act rationally. Young children simply aren’t able.
I’m deep in the toddler trenches right now. I feel your exhaustion and frustration first hand. Yelling, time out, and punishment just doesn’t work at this age. I knew I had to make a change.
When I shifted my perspective from “bad behavior with no communication” to “good communication with undesired behaviors” – it clicked! I saw my toddler as a little human, trying to navigate this big world by telling me he needed help.
We can change our child’s behavior by removing our judgement and internal emotions tied to their actions. This change in perception moves away from the belief that we are parents/caregivers hold all the power over our children. This is an important belief to communicating with connection. Caregivers do not hold all the power over our children.
When we respect our child as a person, we give them some power. The power to express themselves. The power to problem-solve. The power to make decisions. That does not mean they get full freedom, but it does mean we must be the guide-not the god.