February 2, 2017

Establishing rapport with clients of all ages and stages is an important part of being a speech-language pathologist. Taking the time to establish positive relationships in early intervention, however, can pay off in especially big ways. Good connections with children we treat—and with their families and other professionals serving them—can help these young clients meet goals faster.

If clients see us as their “big friends,” coming to visit and play with them, we can more easily motivate them. If parents/caregivers see us as professionals, they more likely trust our training and experience to coach, model and work with the whole family to help the child improve communication skills. With other team members, I aim for them to see me as a competent and effective SLP, who respects professional boundaries and supports other professionals who work with the client.

Here are some techniques that help me to establish quality relationships with everyone involved:

The client

  • Let the child know you like him.
  • Set the child up for success and offer plenty of positive reinforcement. Encourage effort, praise progress, and cheer her on.
  • Have high expectations for behavior and be clear about expectations. Don’t let negative behaviors become an effective means of communication for the child.
  • Use “we” instead of “you” when stating rules and expectations for behavior. “We don’t throw toys,” instead of “You can’t throw toys.”
  • Have fun and be silly. Two-year-old humor is great.

The parent/caregiver

Be professional and friendly, but don’t be “friends.” It can be challenging to establish this professional boundary, because you’re in their home regularly and working toward the same goals for their child.

  • Comment on things their child does well. People often compare their child’s speech and language skills to others at the same age. Complimenting your client’s skills—even outside speech-language goals—can help parents notice their child’s strengths. For example, their child might exhibit excellent fine- or gross-motor skills, a great sense of humor, or a knack for puzzles.
  • Maintain a consistently positive and supportive attitude, but give honest feedback about progress.
  • Phrase suggestions for activities as if the parents already work on their child’s speech or language skills, because many of them do. For example, say, “When you read to your child…” or “continue working on…”
  • Respect parents’ opinions, time and culture.

Other team members

  • Support other team members. If parents make a negative comment about someone else on the team, respond with an explanation of methods, techniques or other aspects of treatment to validate that professional's work.
  • Defer to other professionals if parents ask you a question outside your scope of practice.
  • Return calls, texts and emails promptly and courteously.
  • Diagnose only what you are trained to diagnose.
  • Share concerns with a team coordinator if you notice the client demonstrating concerning behavior outside your area of expertise.

Establishing appropriate relationships with the child, their parent/caregiver and other team members will go a long way toward motivating the client to participate willingly, earning the parent/caregiver's support for all aspects of treatment, and developing team unity. These crucial foundations allow you to work effectively in an early-intervention setting.

More on early intervention:

Our Role in Early Identification

So You Want to Switch to Early Intervention

Telepractice Training for Early Intervention with Children who are Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing


Jill G. Eversmann, MS, CCC-SLP, is a pediatric speech-language pathologist with more than 30 years of experience. She’s also a sign language instructor and owns Speech Signs, LLC, in Columbia, South Carolina. In addition, Eversmann is an adjunct clinical supervisor at Columbia College and a national speaker with Vyne Education. [email protected]


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