Sometimes we buy kiddos toys and they would prefer to play with the boxes and packaging from the items instead. Or our kiddos play with the toy in a non-traditional way, which isn’t how we expected them to use it...
Other times we may prepare a particular project or material and it becomes a “Pinterest fail” because it doesn’t turn out like the blog post said it would. Or the activity is just completely rejected by your child.
This blog frequently discusses activities parents can do with children to build language and literacy skills. But as therapists we know that sometimes our lesson plans do not work out. So what do we do when this happens? As parents we may want to critique our kiddos and show them the “correct” way to enjoy the activity. We are here to tell you to resist that urge. How would you feel if you sent back your food in a restaurant and the waiter returned to your table and told you how to properly enjoy the meal? Or what if he mentioned that other diners liked it, so there’s no reason you cannot? This interaction probably would not make you want to spend more time with that waiter. Am I right?
So how do we make the most out of activities that do not go as planned?
Ask yourself: Can I still practice the target skill?
If a lesson does not work out the way the therapist intended, an SLP does not cancel their therapy session leaving the data sheets blank. We always begin a session with our target goal in mind. Maybe it is to use specific vocabulary, produce a certain sound, or demonstrate a particular social skill. We must remain child-centered and not activity-centered for kiddos to be engaged. So the first step to repairing the issue is seeing if we can still work on our goals, while playing in a way that the child would prefer. We always want them to have a positive experience so that they want to continue working with us. This requires being flexible and creative sometimes.
See the picture above? You might recognize that letter board from our blog post two weeks ago related to "Literacy Lane." After a few times racing cars to letters, the kiddo lost interest in playing that game. But he had demonstrated an interest in imaginative play with an array of small figures. So keeping in mind that the end goal was practicing letter recognition and beginning sounds, we played with the figures and helped them find the initial letters of their names, within the context of the pretend play story the characters were acting out. In this case, the kiddo was still interested in learning the skill, but wanted to practice it differently. Always try to keep the goal in mind. Kiddos will learn so much more if they are engaged in the lesson! Many times this is possible, especially when the goal is just helping our child to expand on their language skills during play.
Teach about frustration management.
Sometimes, continuing to practice the target skill just is not possible. You can still teach a valuable social skill and model some appropriate frustration management for your kiddo. Often, children become angry when they are playing and peers do not want to follow their specific set of rules designed for the game. This is a great time to say something like: "I am disappointed. I really wanted to play ___________. You do not want to play this game. That is okay! We can still have fun together and I do not have to be angry." By using self talk to label feelings and describe the situation, you are modeling coping strategies and a calm response to frustration during a play scenario. Children need to be taught this skill to demonstrate it with peers.
Enjoy some bonding and playtime!
Remember that it is okay to try again another day. Sometimes we can still address the target skill. Sometimes we cannot. Sometimes we can turn the situation into a teachable moment about frustration. Sometimes we cannot. When all else fails, you can always just enjoy a fun, bonding experience through play, with your kiddo. Parents have too many responsibilities to beat themselves up over an activity gone awry! Remember to be kind to yourself! You can always try again next time!