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Here's an Easy-to-Implement Idea to Help Our Speech Therapy Rooms Feel Like a Safer Space

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

A tip for supporting the emotional piece during speech therapy activities

As SLPs, we get to know a lot about our students.

Sure, we assess and treat their communication challenges, but we also get to know them as people: their likes and dislikes, their interests, their strengths and challenges, their social relationships, their worries, their senses of humor, and so much more.

When our kiddos are in therapy with us, we ask them to attempt new things which are often really difficult, especially at first. An inherent part of learning new skills is stepping outside of our comfort zone; this is true anyone, both kids and adults.

We also want our students to reach their goals sooner rather than later, because we know that, when they do, things will get easier for them in their life!

This can add up to a whole lot of pressure on kids. Especially those kids who really want to do well, and to please the adults around them.

I've learned over time that it's not always easy to spot the kids who are feeling a lot of pressure internally. I've also learned that a child's discomfort on the inside can look like silliness or distractibility or even more difficult behaviors on the outside.

So I've developed a little tool that has worked so well I had to share it!

The "Annoying Button"

It started with one of my students who had had a difficult experience with a previous speech therapist. My student needed help with a variety of speech sounds, but she told me that the other SLP had been "so annoying!" My hunch was that the other SLP may have been asking my student to do things that were too hard, or asking her to persist past the point of needing a break.

So, we started using the "Annoying Button." I drew a circle on a paper and wrote the words "Too Annoying" on it. I told my student to hit the button if things ever felt too hard or like it was just too much for one day.

My student smiled and got to work.

And guess what?

She never hit the button, but always asked for it before we started articulation drill work. I'd like to think that we had created a space that felt safer for her to do the very difficult work of articulation therapy.

Too many elephants...

Kids never cease to amaze me with their creativity.

I told another student, who also needed to do a lot of articulation work with me, about the "Annoying Button." As I described it to him, I explained that the button was there for times when he was feeling too much pressure.

He then told me that he had learned that, when you're deep underwater, the weight of the water pressure can feel like there are elephants on top of you! (I made sure that he knew that the idea of "feeling pressure" in the way I intended it was about feeling like you're worried you might fall short of the expectations being placed on you - a good opportunity to explore some figurative language!)

So with this kiddo, we made a "Too Many Elephants!" button! He has been working on /r/, and has been having a tough time with it, and I've seen him feel a sense of safety from knowing the button is there as an option. He has used it a couple of times, and, when he does, we drop it and move on to a different activity for that day.

child in speech therapy

Escape hatches

Since discovering the "Annoying Button," I've incorporated this idea of giving kids an escape hatch that they can have when they need it into more and more contexts.

I regularly perform comprehensive language assessments with kids, where they have to complete a variety of structured activities that are geared toward finding the level where their skills break down. For many kids, it can feel uncomfortable to have to keep trying to do something that feels too hard.

I now offer them some kind of activity, like a drawing break or a quick iPad game, and frequently offer it as we progress through the assessment activities.

Do you have any guesses about how it has gone?

Believe it or not, I've yet to come across a kid who uses their escape hatch beyond what they really need.

In fact, most kids want to keep pushing, and they get to enjoy a sense of pride that they've been offered a break but chose to keep working hard instead.

It feels like a win-win and is SO EASY to incorporate!

Do you have any hacks that have helped you create a safe space in your own speech therapy sessions? Please share your experiences and wisdom in the comments!


Did you enjoy this blog post? Subscribe below to get the latest blog posts, which feature lots of speech therapy ideas for busy SLPs who want to provide fun, impactful, and meaningful speech-language therapy.

Have you heard? StoryWhys now offers the Speech and Spell series of resources. I am always trying to tie articulation work and spelling together in my therapy and I've never found any good resources out there to help me do this. So I made my own! Many more speech sounds and spelling rules to come. They'll be 50% off for 48 hrs when new resources are added to the StoryWhys store. Find them here.

Did you know book companions can be among the best speech therapy materials for elementary students? Explore all of the StoryWhys book companions for speech therapy in my store. You'll find comprehensive book companions that target many different language skills or Spotlight Series book companions that focus on one type of skill, all using high-quality, beloved storybooks.

And get your FREE, 71-page book companion for speech therapy on the free download page.


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