Why this SLP was afraid of little kids

Why this SLP was afraid

Get down off that chair and Be Brave SLP!

When you are a student, you learn a little bit of everything in your field and then are expected to go out into the workforce and know what to do. I worked with school-aged children in my first job and SLP life was working out for me. I built rapport easily, was confident in therapy and was developing some special interests. And then a two-year-old popped up on my caseload and my first thought was ‘sh*t’ …let’s move on to my second thought, or rather feeling. It was anxious. I remember scrambling through my cupboard for the right assessment and toys, googling ‘early intervention’ and feeling totally out of my depth. I felt like I had come to the point where most of my kids required minimal planning because therapy was natural and ingrained, the therapy plan seemed imprinted in my subconscious. But what was I supposed to do with this two-year-old?

Most of these feelings were because I had high expectations of myself and hated that I felt uncertain and doubted my skills. I didn’t want to admit this to anyone because I had a couple of years experience and felt like a student on my first day of prac. I felt like I was meant to work with school-aged kids, that we ‘clicked’ and I’m my best SLP when I was with this group. Call it feeling awkward, call it not wanting to be up for the SLP challenge but I didn’t feel like I understood little kids.

More little ones came and I took it personally when they wouldn’t talk to me or hid behind their mum, especially as I could build rapport so quickly with other ages. I started to get a complex that they knew I wasn’t comfortable around them. As if they had this extra sense like a dog and could smell my fear. And that’s exactly what it was. Fear. I was afraid of little kids.

I was afraid of them because I thought that I wasn’t fun enough, that I wasn’t playing ‘right’, I couldn’t name the Peppa Pig or Octonaut characters of the day and I didn’t know enough nursery rhymes. I was hard on myself because early intervention just didn’t come naturally and I thought that it should. I remember one day thinking ‘what is so exciting about stacking cups? How can you just keep doing this over and over again?’.

I started to overcompensate and had toys everywhere, hoping that they would find at least something fun, because I didn’t understand what they liked. This feeling had gone on for too long, so I knew that I had to do something because little kids would always be coming my way. I decided to take a proactive approach. The SLP world has blossomed since I felt this way eight years ago, so here is what you can do now:

  1. Ask colleagues in your setting or school district if you can observe their sessions. If you see what therapy can look like, then maybe you will feel more comfortable.
  2. Google toys for age ranges, browse the toy section at Target, ask any SLP colleagues or preschool teachers what their kids love. Katie from Playing With Words 365 has written a fabulous series about toy recommendations I highly recommend.
  3. Open up to SLP buddies, find a forum or join a Facebook group and be honest about your feelings. Just talking about it can feel like a relief and you probably aren’t alone.
  4. If you can’t attend a Hanen course, they have some great online eSeminars that you can take. You can also buy some of their Guidebooks and DVDs.
  5. Search for different charts and checklists about play stages and development so that you have a framework to reference.
  6. When you are doing an assessment, write some notes about questions to ask or things to look for so that you won’t forget, such as turn-taking and joint attention.

I’m happy to say that I’ve come through the other side and don’t batter an eyelid when I have little ones. I understand them now and they don’t scare me one bit (even if they won’t talk to me in their first session). I was only afraid of them because I doubted myself and my skills, which I shouldn’t have. So whether it’s little kids or it’s something else, like AAC or Autism, don’t hold on to that fear.

I learned three important lessons:

  1. I can’t be the best at everything
  2. There is always room to develop my skills.
  3. It is important (and healthy) to admit that you need help or support.

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  • I’m a student SLT and totally relate to this – especially the thought, “I’m not fun enough”! Thank you!

  • This is just the article I needed to read today. I’m in the first month of my first practicum of grad school and went to my car to cry during my lunch break on Monday. I worked so hard to get all A’s my first semester – and did – yet I feel like an absolute failure because I can’t figure out how to “play” with 2 and 3 year olds. It’s comforting to know I’m not the first to feel this way, and though this is not the population for me longterm, I hope soon I can find my groove like you did!

    • Hi Cali,

      For me, I still find it hard. It really helped having my own kids and understanding what interests them. Perhaps you could observe at a daycare or preschool and understand the best ways to connect?


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