The copies run through the machine, one after another, using paper, toner, and a few spare moments I found before my first client. I’m printing out handwriting practice sheets as homework, but can’t help wondering… am I wasting my time?
I used to assume that people followed all of my instructions back in my idealistic “I can fix everything” phase of practice, fresh off the grad school wagon. But it doesn’t take long to spot a parent that brushes you off, expecting the change to happen in your time together with their child, not at home.
There are some people that are apologetic about it all, like a babysitter that came in week after week- “I’m SO sorry we didn’t do the homework this week, time just got away from us.” Her honestly was refreshingly surprising; after all, it’s not often that someone will fess up to blowing off assignments.
Others are sneakier about it, like one parent that asked every session- “What are we supposed to do at home this week?” I loved it, and felt like she was really on board. I copied handwriting sheets and sent home fine motor ideas each week. We were a team, therapist and parent, conquering letter formations!
That was until one week that the mom was running late. She had to pull up really quickly as her son jumped in the front seat. And that’s when I saw them – weeks and weeks of homework sheets, crumpled, stepped on, uncompleted, and strewn about the car floor. What should I have done? Pointed my finger accusingly, “Hey! You didn’t do those worksheets! Liar liar pants on fire!” Or what I actually did – avert my eyes and pretend to see nothing. Maybe that day I just needed to pretend like what we were doing was important.
So here is the question of the day: how do we get carryover in the home?
I like to introduce the idea of therapy to parents with a scenario: Would you go to the gym for one hour a week with a personal trainer, never return between sessions, and then gripe at the trainer because you don’t have a six pack? No, because that sounds ridiculous. However, the expectations of therapy are practically that high. “Why can’t he tie his shoes?” “Why isn’t he writing his name?” “His teacher says he still runs around the classroom, this sensory stuff you do isn’t working.”
For many of these situations I respond with a question of my own, “Have you tried my suggestion to do ________?” Parent responses range from “Well… no, not yet.” Or a quick brush off of, “Nah, that didn’t really work.” So many times I find that I bang my head against the wall trying to scour my brain for answers, only to realize the ideas aren’t even attempted.
When I had a string of clients with tricky sensory processing issues, I realized I needed to try something different. The parents were saying, “He hasn’t changed.” or “He is still all over the place.” each week and I was feeling hopeless. One mom admittedly did nothing at home, so I decided to send home a journal for her to track what she did and how the child responded. I tried a very strict approach with her in attempt to get her on board, clearly laying out the rules that she needed to bring back a completed entry every week.
The result? I never saw that journal again.
I’ve seen the same thing with fine motor practice; some therapists attempt to send home a binder of work to be returned and reviewed each week, or perhaps a simple checklist or grid sheet with room to chart exercises. While there are parents that thrive on this approach, I have to wonder if they are the ones that would have been doing the homework regardless.
It becomes frustrating as a therapist when you spend the money and time to create something special for a child, knowing very well that: a) it might never be used, and b) you might never see it again. I have found that even when homework is considered a “requirement” of the therapy program, there isn’t always follow through.
But what makes the difference between a parent that follows through and a parent that doesn’t? Sometimes it boils down to money; those that are paying a LOT for therapy seem very interested in homework, mostly because they want to be done with the added expense ASAP. Others don’t blow off homework intentionally, they just barely have time in their schedules to get their child to and from the office. Then there are still some people view therapy as a break from their child, or perhaps they simply feel like the therapist should be doing all the “work.”
I get it though. Lives are busy, especially when families have more than one child. They have work, school, and extra curricular activities. But if a parent invests in coming to therapy, they should invest in the time to make the most of it, if they really want to see progress.
That’s why I feel that it is critical to make sure the parent knows exactly what is being worked on and WHY. I have found that if a concept or task doesn’t make sense to someone, they are more likely to just not follow through at home then to ask for clarification from their therapist.
There is obviously a delicate balance between becoming an authoritarian that says, “You must do this for your child!” and creating that therapeutic bond. The trick is to find the middle ground. Maybe I should just say “pretty please” and see what happens?