As Auditory Verbal Therapists, our job is not to evaluate or judge parents, but rather to guide and coach. How can we best offer feedback that validates families’ effectiveness at helping their children grow?
One thing that I have found useful in my practice is to reframe the concept of “offering praise” into the idea of serving as “the world’s best mirror.” Families do not need my approval (“Here’s a gold star from Elizabeth Rosenzweig, congratulations!”). That implies that I am the judge of what is a “good job” or not. I have since given up on saying “good” in my sessions. But what do you do to fill that gap? It’s only human — we want to offer some sort of reaction or feedback! So, I have shifted from thinking about my role as “encourager-in-chief” to attempting to become “the world’s best mirror.”
Think about looking in a mirror. A mirror doesn’t tell you anything new — it just shows you what’s already there in a way that makes you stop, think, and (pun intended!) reflect. A good mirror points out things you may have missed in the busy-ness of your everyday life (“Oh no! I have some spinach stuck in my teeth!”) or shows you how your efforts are leading to a desired effect (“I’m working on getting more sleep, and wow, I do look more rested!”). As therapists, we can do the same for the families and mentees we serve.
I think about giving feedback in an X → Y fashion. When you did X, it had positive effect Y on the child. None of this is evaluative (I’m not telling you that what you did is objectively “good” or “bad”), none of this puts me, the therapist, in the role of deciding what is valuable or not. I’m just the mirror, showing you how your actions have the power to get your child closer to her goals.
In a therapy session, it might sound like this:
“When you moved closer to her microphone, Sarah was able to hear that /s/ sound and say her name more clearly.”
“When you turned off the television and eliminated that background noise, Carson was able to follow your directions.”
In a mentoring session, it might sound like this:
“When you clearly articulated the goals of the activity, I saw that the mother was able to take the lead in working with her child.”
“When you used active listening strategies, the dad was able to share his concerns about his child’s progress.”
For children, it might sound like this:
“When you stopped to focus, you were able to answer the questions correctly.”
“When you told your teacher you needed her to wear the FM microphone, you were able to participate in the class discussion.”
A mirror can only reflect something if it’s really, truly there, and the reality is that our children, families and mentees already have within them the ability to make a powerful difference in the world. Sometimes, all they need a really great mirror.