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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Search for different charts and checklists about play stages and development so that you have a framework to reference.
- 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:
- I can’t be the best at everything
- There is always room to develop my skills.
- It is important (and healthy) to admit that you need help or support.