You have to stop leaving siblings out of therapy [free download]

One of your kids has a communication challenge and the other doesn’t.

Does this sound familiar? 

You may see…

  • Frustration
  • Interrupting
  • Power struggles
  • Miscommunication

I’ve pulled together the hive-mind of my mom friends 

I asked my favorite mom-friends (who have multiple children) to share their insights. Then I combined what they know (life with kids) with what I know (speech-language pathology) to share some tips with you.

There’s a shift after you add a second child to your family.

With two or more children, parents have to split their attention.

Now add a communication challenge into the mix. Tricky.

One child may require more attention, discipline, or time than the other.

But “not always being treated exactly the same way… doesn’t necessarily need to be a source of tension” according to Catherine Pearson in her HuffPost Article, The Secret To Raising Kids Who Actually Get Along: Researchers at Northeastern University May Have Finally Cracked the Code.

Want to know how kids tolerate being treated differently? 

We explain it to them.

We tell them what is happening and why it is happening.

When unequal treatment is left unexplained, kids will come to their own conclusions.

You don’t want them to come to their own conclusions.

When we explain it to them – “I’m talking a lot to Ross because he needs to hear these sounds all day” – they understand you aren’t ignoring them.

Could you be jumping to the wrong conclusions? 

Older children are sometimes blamed for their younger sibling’s slow speech development. 

“She’s so chatty he couldn’t get a word in!”

But wait is that true??

Notsomuch.

Birth order does impact speech development, but not in the way you think. The folks at The Hanen Centre explained the whole thing in their article “Do second and third-born children really talk late? The effect of birth order on language development” by Lauren Lowry.

Second and third children may develop pronoun, conversation, and vocabulary skills differently. Check out their article for more information on this topic.

Can every day be “Bring Your Brother to Therapy Day?”

For some kids it already is (not in a good way)

Is one of your children spending a lot of their time sitting in the waiting room while their sibling gets “therapized?”

Ask your SLP if there is a way to include your other children in therapy. 

It may not be possible (privacy laws are important and strict).

But you never know! 

Give your therapist some time to meet and get to know both kids. After a while, they may be able to build engaging activities for both kids.

“Sibling participation can create a win-win situation for both the sibling and the child needing services,” Denise Underkoffler shared in her article“ Why Involve Siblings in Speech-Language Intervention” on ASHA’s website.

Going to therapy can feel like extra-special attention for the child who doesn’t need it. For the child who needs therapy, they now have a helper who lives with them. What a great tool!

How can I use my other kids to help my toddler with a communication challenge?

13 Family-Friendly Communication Ideas

Your main goal is to get every child to take a turn. You want to encourage the conversation to flow back and forth like a game of catch. 

Here’s how:

  • Try this game I taught to my dog! It’s called “Show me something.” Have your kids “show you something” by making a sound or striking a pose. Each turn has to be something different. When they’re out of ideas the game is done!
  • Toss a ball or play tag. When you get the ball or you’re tagged, you have to make a sound!
  • Take the opportunity to develop self-advocacy skills. When a toy is grabbed without asking, teach your children how to say “no” or to sign “mine.” 
  • Remember the Cheer Stick from Bring It OnTry using a talking stick. The person with the stick gets to talk!
  • More into karaoke? Use a microphone! (stuffed animals work well too)
  • Play chase. Encourage your child with the communication challenge to be in charge of starting and stopping the play. I like to team up with the quieter child during these activities.
  • Let’s play Teacher! Facilitate opportunities for your less talkative child to participate while your more successful communicator develops their play skills. For example, a child who only says vowels would make an awesome monkey (ooh ooh aah aah).
  • Get outside! Allow your more communicative child time to explore and imagine and engage in independent play as you follow your less communicative child around and describe what you see.
  • Give your talker a job. (Ex. Monica can you hold the bag open and listen for Joey to say “pop?”)
  • Respond to interruptions with acknowledgment and redirection: “Great idea! Let’s see what they say…. were you right? did she agree?”
  • Count while you wait. Slowly hold up your fingers as you give extra wait time to your quieter child.
  • Sound Effects. Play games that have a lot of sound effects – these sounds are often simpler and easier to pronounce. 
  • Assign shared chores (help set the table, etc) these opportunities will build teamwork and can support both comprehension and language expression (from the NYTimes article “How to Raise Siblings Who Get Along”)

You need to figure out what works for your family

Here’s the thing – I can brainstorm ideas but I don’t know your family dynamic.

You need to take some time and figure out what will work at your house. 

Here are some journal-prompts to help you frame your thinking.

  1. What does [kid 1] need from me to feel loved, cherished, and seen?
  2. What does [kid 2] need from me to feel loved, cherished, and seen?
  3. What strategies am I using to support my child with developmental language delay? (modeling words with specific sounds, recasting what they say, encouraging vocal play, etc.)
  4. How can I embed those goals and still meet the needs of all children?
  5. What barriers exist to my ability to do that?
  6. Are there any creative solutions to decrease those barriers?

If you find this post useful, please share it with your friends on Facebook. Follow me on Instagram to hear more toddler communication ideas!

A Quick Disclaimer: This post is in no way meant to replace evaluation and treatment for your child. Each child is different and their needs are unique to them. If you are interested in professional support for your child, I’d love to discuss that with you. Send me an email at speech@kaylacalabro.com

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