We’ve all been here at some point. We’ve thoughtfully planned our session, carefully considered how to engage the toddler while also coaching the parent and are ready to go! But, ten minutes into the session, the room is a mess, the toddler is doodling in your notebook, the parent is looking at her watch, and you are exhausted. You think to yourself, “Why did this happen? Why isn’t the toddler engaged?
Perhaps the toddler was tired, hungry, coming down with a cold, or having an off day. Anything is possible and these are things you cannot control.
The only thing you can control is how you respond to the toddler.
It is important to be flexible and responsive during your therapy sessions. If the toddler is very energetic and cannot remain seated for a short duration, starting with a tabletop activity may not be the best idea. If the toddler craves movement, start with movement based activities that are motivating and interesting to the toddler. Some examples include: blowing and popping bubbles, playing hide-n-seek, bouncing on an exercise ball, crawling through a tunnel, or playing volley with an inflated balloon.
While playing with the toddler, focus less on what you are doing and more on what the toddler is doing. Try getting on his or her level. Do this by talking about what he or she is doing and by copying and imitating his or her actions, sounds, and words. For instance, if the toddler is pushing a matchbox car on the carpet, pick up another car, and push your car alongside his or her car. Then, once you have his or her attention, take it one step further. Make the car go fast and then go slow. Make it go under the table and then over the table. Make it park in a shoe or speed down your leg. Each time you try something new, remember to watch and observe the toddler. Did he really like making the car go fast and then go slow? If so, do it again and again! Infuse language and turn taking into this play.
When toddlers love what they are doing, they engage and do not want to stop.
Lastly, consider structuring your session so there is a nice, predictable flow to it. This is why I love play routines and write about them in My Toddler Talks: Strategies and Activities to Promote Your Child’s Language Development. Before moving onto another fun activity or child directed play routine during your session encourage the toddler to help clean up and sing the Clean Up Song.
How do you get toddlers on your caseload to stay engaged?
I hope this has been helpful!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kimberly is a New Jersey–licensed speech-language pathologist and is nationally certified by the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA). She is a creative thinker and a passionate therapist who believes children should have fun in therapy. Kimberly is also the author of the best-selling book My Toddler Talks: Strategies and Activities to Promote Your Child’s Language Development and the unique interactive picture book Learning to Read Is a Ball. Kimberly has had the opportunity to hone her skills by working in various settings serving all ages, populations, and disorders. She is a three-time recipient of ASHA’s award for continuing education (ACE), which formally recognizes professionals who have demonstrated their commitment to lifelong learning by earning 7.0 CEUs (seventy hours) within a thirty-six-month period. She graduated from Rutgers University with a bachelor of science and earned her master of arts in communication disorders from Montclair State University. A lifelong resident of Bergen County, New Jersey, Kimberly lives with her husband and two children.