Hello from the Other Side

I can’t tell you how many times I heard “Wait until you have kids” in the first 7 years of my OT career.

I have a Bachelors in Health Science, a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy, and countless hours of continuing education and certifications specializing in pediatrics. I am a child development professional. What does it mean, “wait until I have kids”?

I mean, I went to school for this. I have an extensive knowledge base to help parents understand why their child may be struggling, as well as help their kids build the skills and confidence to excel in their daily occupations.

What I lacked at the time, however, was the experience of being a parent and raising a child. Did that even matter? Honestly, yes it did.

It was easy for a no-kid, fresh-out-of-school therapist to look at parents and assume what they were/weren’t doing, and how that was affecting their child’s progress, for better or worse.

But often, there were times I had questions I didn’t get answers for.

  • If I provided home exercises/activities, why aren’t they being followed through?
  • Why are some parents worried or overwhelmed? Their kid is doing great.
  • Why did the parents just stop therapy for their kid? They were making steady progress.

During those early years, I had no clue what it was like to have kids, juggle personal and professional responsibilities, and maintain your own sanity to stay afloat. I couldn’t grasp what these parents needed in order to be successful with their child. I neglected parenting styles, parents’ own fears and concerns, the actual amount of time available, and how home life can change from patient to patient.

March 2017 changed all that. Now as a parent to twin babies and a preschooler, I understand the struggles. Parenting is no walk in the park, even for a seasoned pediatric OT.

With that said, here’s my advice to my pre-kid OT self (and other future OTs working with kids):

  • Don’t just consider the kid, but the entire family dynamic. This includes their parenting styles and goals, their schedules, how the family operates as a whole, and what of that could be hindering their child’s ability to participate in daily tasks and activities. A full-time working parent may not have time to complete a set of home exercises, especially if they have multiple kids. An authoritarian parent may have a tough time giving up control and letting their child make mistakes on their own. A busy household may be overwhelming for their child, especially after a challenging day at school.

  • Reassure and remind parents that they are doing the best they can and that they ultimately know what’s best for their child. Parents try their best to be present for their kid every day. When they come to you, they are seeking counsel. Let them know that just bringing their child in for services is great. Your recommendations are just that. Recommendations.

    As a therapist, you only see their kid for a couple of hours each week. Be understanding and adapt your at-home treatment plan to accommodate their needs if the current plan is not working.

  • Provide strategies/activities/exercises that can easily be implemented into their day. It’s hard for parents to do things with their kids if it’s not meaningful, purposeful, or pragmatic to them or their family. So, find ways that their plan can be helpful. If the child you’re working with needs to build postural control and upper body strength/stability to complete fine motor skills, have them help carry groceries into the house, take the trash out, vacuum, or bring their laundry to the laundry room.

  • Come from a place of kindness, compassion, and curiosity. You only really know a small part of what is going on at home or school. Parents won’t tell you anything if they don’t trust you or think you are judging them. Develop a rapport, but pick up on what is not being said. If they appear zoned out when you are giving them home activities, ask them if it’s unreasonable to do, what barriers are preventing them from completing them, and adjust it to both accommodate their family and still be help their child.

  • Remember that you are an expert in your field and they are coming to you for help. Yes, parents may become defensive when you are providing information on their child and giving them recommendations. Please don’t take offense and in turn, don’t become defensive when they interrogate you about what you can do for their child. Parents do not know what you know as a professional. Deliver information with empathy, stay present when hearing their concerns or questions, and collaborate with them to ensure their child succeeds.

Becoming a parent has 100% changed how I approach parents and their kids. When I am in a situation where someone else is telling me about my child, it’s hard not to feel defensive, stressed, or hopeless, even if I know that they’re right. So at the end of the day, if you as a therapist can empathetically give parents insight to benefit their child and alleviate their worry, that’s all they need.

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