Crying in therapy

May 16, 2011 in All Blogs, Autism, Brain Injury, Cerebral Palsy, Conditions, Developmental Delay, Down Syndrome, Education and Parenting, Our Blog by Natan

For many parents, family members and therapists, crying can be a big obstacle to overcome when teaching and working with a young child. While it may be difficult to manage this sort of behaviour, it is important to understand why a child is upset as well as the things you can do in order to see his way of thinking. In my opinion, the key to handling this issue is to try to figure out where the child is coming from and be willing to view things from his perspective. In doing so, you will be able to tell the difference between when he is simply protesting something new or if he is hurt and needs you to stop and assist him in his function.

Seeing from a child’s perspective

For this reason, it’s good to take a step back and observe your child. We often believe that since we are older and “wiser,” our primary goal is to teach a child the things that we know and understand. However, every child is different, and each has his own dreams, wishes and fears. In this respect our first response should be to learn as much from him as he learns from us. The ability to understand a child becomes really important especially when you are working with him to improve his function. In response to unfamiliar situations or tasks, a child will often cry because he does not want to do them. This makes it important to know the difference between crying as a response to new experiences or in response to actual injury. If he is really hurt, you will need to stop and find out what is happening. However, if this is not the case it is important to persist and continue with treatment.

Why is this the case, you may ask? If a child is only protesting, explaining things to him will be much more effective than stopping treatment every time he begins to cry. If you stop, he will automatically assume that crying will be the solution to stop you from making him do certain things. It is a self-defense mechanism, which is why you need to explain what, how and why he needs to do something in order for him to be able to understand. In this way, he will come to comprehend what is being taught and you will be able to continue with his treatment.

The effect of this approach

To demonstrate how effective approach this is, I’ll tell you about one of my experiences with a young girl that had cerebral palsy. As I worked with her, I made sure to explain every function and its purpose to her for each new activity we did together. During the girl’s treatment, her mother told me, “You are the first therapist that she didn’t cry with.” My question to her was: did anyone talk to the girl and explain what she was supposed to do? When the mom said no, it was easy to understand the differences she saw in her child’s learning and behaviour.

Whenever I encounter these situations, I ask myself: why do we have to assume things about a child and try to make him follow them, when we can simply ask a child what’s wrong and then explain what we are going to do? If a child is not willing to do the things which he should, then the approach to take is to explain, follow up, and repeat it again and again and again. This is how a child is able to learn and eventually follow. When we do everything for a child however, instead of simply assisting him as he learns to do things for himself, he starts to assume that everything can be done for him. If this were the case, then why should he have to follow instructions and strive to accomplish more? Without being given a reason for doing things, a child will continue to protest and cry whenever he comes across new situations.

So my final advice to parents, therapists and caregivers alike is this: communicate with your child. Explain why he has to perform certain functions and show him how to do them. It is important to be patient, persistent and understanding, for you are the one who will teach him what’s wrong, what’s right, what’s true and what’s false. As you help to introduce him to the world, remember: your child is bright, and it’s up to you to support and guide him as he continues along the path of development.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave a comment down below or email me. Thanks everyone!

-Natan

Update: This article was featured by our friends over at Down Syndrome Centre, Special Education Advisor and Hope Magazine Online. Thanks guys!

Natan

About the author

Natan Gendelman has written 176 articles for Enabled Kids.

Natan Gendelman is licensed as a physical therapist in Russia and Israel. After moving to Canada, he was certified as a kinesiologist and osteopathy manual practitioner. Natan has more than 20 years of experience providing rehabilitation and treatment for conditions such as cerebral palsy, autism, Down syndrome, pediatric stroke and acquired brain injury. He is the founder and director of Health in Motion Rehabilitation, a Toronto-based clinic whose main objective is to teach their patients the independence necessary for success in their daily lives.