Tips to Wrangle Your Most Unruly Speechies

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At the beginning of each school year, I have great expectations that this year is the year that all my little speechies are going to manage their behavior well in my treatment room with minimal incentives on my end. So much for great expectations. Because, of course, every year, I’m presented with new challenging behaviors to tackle because we educators know that “all kids are unique and different.”

Just when I think I have mastered all that I need to know about behavior management, one my little sweet speechies decides to bring a new unpleasant behavior into my speech room.

The good news is, I have learned much about managing these behaviors, both in the school setting and at home—from raising two little ones! These are my tips for keeping your therapy room calm and productive:

  • Say what you mean and mean what you say. Set the behavior expectations for your speech room at the beginning of the year and explain the consequences for not following your expectations. Each session, review these with students who need frequent reminders about their behavior. Visually post your rules and consequences, so they can see and hear them. Don’t be afraid to snap the whip and follow through with your consequences because it sends the message to the whole group that you mean business.
  • Bring on the visuals. Use visuals to remind students who struggle with transitions about the start and end of activities. I use a Time Timer and two to three warnings to let my students know when the activity will end. I am also creating a visual necklace that displays prompts to help show students what I want them to do. Visuals such as “all done,” “sit,” “clean up,” and “calm down” are on my list. I also use visual scheduling in treatment. For example, I might draw a chair with the child sitting down, then playdoh, cards for artic, and then clean up or a good-bye visual. As we complete each task, the child marks an X on it.
  • Empower students. We all want to be in control of our lives even when we can’t control our circumstances. This is the same for children. And although they cannot dictate the session, we can still give them choices, such as “You can sit in your chair or you can stand behind your chair,” or, “You can work for Legos or stickers,” or “You can finish your worksheet and earn your speech bucks, or sit in your chair and lose your speech bucks for the day.”
  • Encourage sensory integration. Some of your kids may struggle with focusing, staying still and controlling impulsiveness because their sensory regulation is off. Having fidget tools such as squishy balls available upon request may help your student. I explain that the squishy ball is a “tool” and if used as a toy, it will be taken away. Also, incorporating movement breaks or activities that infuse movement help keep our little speechies focused and in control of their body.
  • Abandon ship when necessary. We all plan wonderful, amazing treatment sessions filled with activities that we “think” all kids will love. Sometimes your most ideal therapy activities may not work for certain children. Don’t hesitate to abandon a toy or activity when a child does not appear interested in your fabulous board game! You will get more meaningful interactions with toys and activities that your students prefer, rather than trying to force them to like what you want to do. I always try to reintroduce an activity a couple weeks later to see if they may want to try it out again.

All in all, behavior management is an ongoing process that takes time, trial and error, and a willing SLP to dive in and try new techniques!

Felice Clark, CCC-SLP, is a school-based speech-language pathologist in Sacramento, Calif., and author of the blog, The Dabbling Speechie.