How to help shy children open up in speech therapy

Many of us speech and language pathologists were faced at some point in our career with a few shy children, who took a bit longer to warm up to us, making speech or language therapy a bit more challenging in the beginning. Here are a few tips on how to break the ice with shy children. The below techniques might not always work or they might not work for all of the children but they are worth trying.

1. Silence. Silence can be golden when working with shy children. Try not to bombard them with too many questions at first. If you see that the child looks away, or does not want to talk to you, respect that and give him or her time to warm up to you. Have some toys on the floor or table for him or her to play quietly and observe what his or her interests are, not talking at all. Sometimes it might take the entire session to just observe and smile but the rapport and trust you build with the child now will make therapy easier in the future.

2. Parallel Play. Similar to above but this time the speech therapist plays quietly on her or his own, observing the child’s reactions.

3. Parallel talk. Similar to parallel play but this time the speech therapist plays on her or his own while making comments during the pay.

4. Mirroring. Similar to above ideas. This time the speech therapist copies the child when playing with toys. For example when the child pushes the car, the speech therapist also pushes the car without making any comments.

5. Be silly. Sometimes being silly might help to develop a rapport with shy children. Playing dumb is one way to be silly. For example the speech therapist might pretend that she or he cannot open the toy box. She might make some silly faces and noises when trying to open the box. Making a mistake is another way to be silly.

6. Involve the parents. Parents are great source of information and they might give us speech and language therapists some specific tips that they use themselves when their child is shy around other people. Parents can also help us to get to know the shy child better. We can learn from parents about their child’s favorite toys, hobbies, and activities, which can be used by the speech therapist in the session.

7. Comfort toy. The very shy child might benefit from brining his or her favorite toy from home. This might make him or her safer in the new environment.

Beata Klarowska, M.S. CCC-SLP

Virtual Speech Center Inc. 

Beata Klarowska, M.S. CCC-SLP

Beata Klarowska is an American Speech Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) certified speech and language pathologist, licensed by the state of California.Beata cofounded Virtual Speech Center Inc. in 2011 and, to date, has developed more than 30 apps for speech, language, and cognition.

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