How to Set Your Child Up to Get the Most Out of Therapy—7 Expert Tips

Was your child just diagnosed and you are in the beginning stages of setting up speech, occupational and/or physical therapy? Follow these tips to make these initial experiences successful and, in many instances, propel your child to progress quicker.


1.  Choose your therapy day/time wisely.

If you know your child has a hard time on Monday afternoons, after the weekend--do not schedule his therapy for Mondays at 4pm.

2.  Familiarize the therapist with what your child likes

Bring a favored item those first couple of sessions so your child can show the therapist.  Most therapists use these initial sessions to “establish rapport” to create a safe space and make the child feel comfortable.  When your child brings her favorite toy and/or book and has a chance to show it to the clinician—the initial feelings of anxiety can be pushed aside and the child can feel empowered.

Girl playing with blocks

3.  Except your child to have difficulty separating from you and do not let yourself get emotionally invested in this.

Some children may walk into a new office and go with the new therapist immediately and this will never be an issue.  Many children will get very clingy to their parents/caregiver and not want to go.  If the therapist ultimately feels like it is better to have you outside of the therapy room (many of us feel this way—unless we are also doing parent training as well) because when you are present you are a major distraction—your behavior during these first few sessions will be very important.  You must stay calm and explain to your child that you will be right in the waiting room.  You must be firm and consistent.  If your child cries (which many do) you must just keep telling yourself that the quicker you get this transition over with the easier it will be.  Once your child realizes you mean business and that the routine will always be the same and that the expectation is that they enter the therapy room without you—the sooner they can become an active participant in the therapeutic process and the sooner they are on the path to achieving their goals.  This mean the first few sessions may be a little hairy (not a clinical term—but a good way to describe it) but before you know it, it will be smooth sailing.  Therapists expect separation difficulties and set up SUPER FUN activities and AWESOME rewards with this in mind.

Girl hugging mom

4.  Ask questions

Do not be afraid to ask your therapist how the session went? What the current goals are?  What you can do at home to facilitate generalization?  How your child is progressing? Get your therapist used to updating you and keeping you in the loop—this will benefit your child immensely.  If you are not there at every session because a family member or a babysitter brings them—set up a communication system with the therapist—maybe this is via email or a shared notebook.  The mode of communication does not really matter—what matters most is that everyone is comfortable with it and that there is follow through.  PUT A LINK FOR MY QUESTIONS BLOG HERE.

5.  Acknowledge your child’s progress as well as their efforts.

Sometimes goals are easily mastered and when your therapist exclaims cheerfully that one has been met—most parents will respond with praise! And possibly a tiny reward (ice cream, movie, toy...etc.) Sometimes if we work in conjunction with the therapist and set up a reward that the parent gets for a therapeutic accomplishment—this can be a potent reinforcer.  One year one of my clients was working towards a skate board—that was rather expensive and was going to take some time to “earn”.  Also…perhaps more importantly, acknowledging your child’s efforts—even when the big goals have not been attained—will go a long way.  It will give them a sense of validation that their hard work is for a purpose and it will feel good to have this pointed out.

6.  Share changes affecting your child.

Remember, your child is influenced by his environment and it is super important that if things at home are “different”—you let us know.  This may explain behaviors cropping up that we have never seen before—like sleepiness or impulsiveness.  What are examples of shareable information?  Your child is on a new medication/diet or a current medication’s dosage has been changed.  Things that are not directly affecting your child from a medical point of view that are still very emotionally relevant could be:

    • A family member has passed away
    • You are moving
    • You changed jobs and are out of the house more frequently
    • One parent has been on an extended business trip
    • You are getting a divorce
    • You are expecting a baby

Simply giving us a heads’ up will be super helpful and may change how we deliver our therapy for that day.

Girl Crying With Mom

7.  Facilitate communication with other therapists on your child’s team.

If your child is receiving therapy from more than one therapist—it is super important that you get these team members to communicate, consistently. This will impact your child’s success in a major way as it will reinforce generalization of newly learned concepts and improve maintenance of skills already mastered.  PUT A LINK TO MY BLOG ON TEAM COMMUNICATION HERE.