Time in the car is quality time. Unfortunately, my children attend different schools. Fortunately, this allows me to spend one-on-one time with each of them in the car. It’s amazing what pops up in conversation when you have alone time in a place from which there is no escape.
Avivit Ben-Aharon, MS ED., MA CCC SLP is the founder and clinical director of Great Speech Inc., an innovative online speech therapy solution. Great Speech utilizes video conferencing technology to provide convenient, customized and effective services nationally. Avivit is an experienced speech and language therapist working with children and adults and firmly believes in the power of speech therapy to empower communication.
Thank you so much for joining us Avivit! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory?”
My family immigrated to New York when I was 14 and I did not speak a word of English. Talk about bad timing! There is nothing worse than sitting in class and not being able to participate in the conversation. But I was very determined and learned English within a year, finished high school and college and received a Master of Science degree in Special Education from Hunter College. I then decided to apply for a Master of Arts degree in Speech-Language Pathology at City University of New York-Herbert H. Lehman College, a very competitive field at the time. I went into labor with my second son during my last final exam and have never looked back.
Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?
In more than a decade of work as a speech therapist, I have seen countless situations where people could not access the therapeutic services they needed, for so many different reasons. Some struggled with transportation or had to cancel because of inclement weather conditions. Others found it difficult juggling the needs of the family and work schedules. Schools often were challenged to provide tailored services to a diverse student population.
I distinctly remember the day I conceived of the Great Speech concept. It was a late afternoon in 2009; I was observing a mom in the speech therapy clinic where I worked who was valiantly trying to simultaneously juggle the needs of her three children. While one son was in therapy, she struggled to help her other son do his homework while feeding her baby daughter. I knew there had to be a better way.
The experience spurred me to think speech therapy lent itself to an online alternative. At the time, a company in Canada was promoting telepractice but the technology was not as accessible. My husband, who is extremely tech savvy, became involved and we started researching and testing different platforms like Skype, many of which did not offer the ability to share, play a game or interact the way I need to for my business. Nor were the platforms HIPAA compliant because anyone can log into the session. It was an “aha” moment when the technology caught up to make telepractice a very viable resource.
With our Great Speech telepractice model, a grandmother in Chicago, who suffered a stroke, can connect online with a speech therapist from Houston, while her daughter in Cleveland monitors the session. Parents no longer have to leave work early or bring the entire family to a speech therapy session. Instead, they can prepare dinner while the child is working with the therapist, in the comfort of their home. A therapist who moves out of town can continue to provide services to the same clients. Equally as important, in a class of 15 students with varying disabilities, each child can work individually with a therapist trained to address a specific need. HIPAA compliant, secure, personally tailored, highly effective therapy is now accessible, affordable, and convenient for children, teens, adults and seniors.
Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?
My weekday intentionally begins at 5:00 am. While my family does not see the light of day until 6:30 am, I prefer to wake up early and have some time to myself, without any conversation or social interaction. My morning routine usually starts with a journal entry. I shower, drink water and listen to a podcast or read before getting dressed in my workout clothes and segueing into mommy mode. I try not to do anything like responding to emails which would distract me from my personal or mommy time.
My oldest is overseas but my second and third boys are independent. My youngest, age four, needs snuggle time and gentle prompts to keep him on schedule. I try to encourage my kids to play basketball or ping pong before they leave for school. This type of leisure time activity sets them up for success for the rest of the day and keeps them off their electronic devices.
Carpool is at 7:45 am after which I head to the gym for a 50-minute class. By 9:15 am, I have sipped a green shake, dressed and am seated in my she-shed (yes, I am one of those who has an actual office right outside our house), ready to work.
Though I have a lot of flexibility being the owner of my business and working in my backyard, I use the hours between 9:15 am and 3:00 pm to focus on my business. Carpools and extra-curricular activities take center stage until dinner. Family dinners are my ultimate goal, but with my husband traveling during the week and the boys being on very different schedules, eating dinner together is not generally realistic.
By 8:30 pm, my youngest is in bed and the middle two have completed homework assignments and are relaxing, so I return to the office for client phone calls and paperwork until 10:00 pm. after which I journal (again), meditate or read and retire to bed by 10:30 pm. It’s a long, busy and hopefully productive weekday.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?
As an experienced speech therapist and the founder and clinical director of an online speech therapy company which focuses on communication, I understand the important role connection plays in communication. If I am distracted or disconnected, there is a ripple effect on everyone in my household. When I feel disconnected, the other members of my family are often running on empty. My active focus as a parent is to keep my family’s emotional tank as full as possible and establish and maintain the connection to my children.
Spending one-on-one time is one of my most effective parenting strategies and lays the foundation for their emotional, social and language development. Research has proven how quality time builds self-esteem and strengthens communication and I have seen it play out personally with my children. Sometimes I actually eat three dinners at night in order to spend quality time with each of my boys. Or if I don’t have consults in the evening, I will watch TV with one of my kids. While TV is not one of my preferred activities, the TV programs provide excellent opportunities for conversation. It gives me a window into their interests, how they think, process and share information. I try to avoid TV or computer time with my youngest but choose instead to engage him by playing board games like Hoot, memory games and cards which are excellent language builders, reading books together or shooting hoops on the court.
Another effective strategy is to involve children in casual daily conversation like what they feel like having for dinner, extra-curricular activities or choices for playdates. I tend to offer the choices so I can accommodate requests. The insights you gain by just asking what they want to do for fun after school and with whom they want to engage can be very insightful and give you a window into their social skills and challenges.
On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your children.
Probably the most important reason is that spending time together is mutually enjoyable. Another benefit is the time we spend together builds up our connection and fills up our love tanks. A full love tank not only promotes family relationships but also lays the foundation for relationships outside the home. A third reason is how we communicate with our children in the home sets the stage for how they will communicate with others outside the home. Children learn to negotiate, mediate and compromise by the example they see at home.
Finally, when you mindfully set aside time on the weekends for your family, you are sending an important message to your children about the importance of family time. On the weekends, I make it a point to maximize my time with my husband and boys and minimize my contact with clients and staff. It’s a win-win strategy for everyone.
According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?
It’s so interesting. My mom was a big believer in the quality over quantity model of parenting and her belief is the basis for my (and my husband’s) current interaction with our children. When we are with them, our focus is on them. The time with them is valuable and we try to minimize outside distractions.
Here are some additional examples of successful quality time strategies:
- Time in the car is quality time. Unfortunately, my children attend different schools. Fortunately, this allows me to spend one-on-one time with each of them in the car. It’s amazing what pops up in conversation when you have alone time in a place from which there is no escape.
- For the past three years, my husband and I have orchestrated a family vision board project. Instead of using it as a performance tool like the Olympic athletes have done for decades, I have turned it into an annual family activity to encourage communication, introspection, the sharing of ideas, feelings and goals with my family of boys. The details are in the blog and eBook I just created. But basically, this family activity is an interactive way for our family to visualize our goals together, one board at a time.
- I am a huge Tony Robbins fan and have personally attended his four-day seminar with my husband as well as with each of my boys when they turn 15. I love sharing the experience and watching each one react differently to walking on fire or responding to the content presented. The seminar is also a way for me to have private time with each son, and create a special memory of the experience we shared.
- My husband and I divide and conquer. Though he travels for business, when he is home, he works hard on finding the right sports activity to share with each son. For one it may be ping pong. For the other, it may be a run. For me, it’s more about ice cream dates, pottery outings or trips to the museum.
- While many of our friends socialize with other families on Friday night, we set aside Friday night for family dinner, games and puzzles. It’s a great bonding evening for all of us.
We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention? Please include examples or stories for each, if you can.
This is a struggle for a working mom, particularly one with a husband who travels, is on call, absent or unavailable.
Here are some of my strategies:
- Digital Diet: I detach from my phone when giving quality time to my kids and set very careful boundaries with my clients so when I am at work, I am fully present at work. When I am with my kids, I am as fully present as I can be. There are also no phones at the dinner table or at family activities.
- Learning to Say No: I am very protective of my time. If there are two events in one evening, I choose one instead of running from one to the next. Even when I do community service, I limit my volunteer hours to either include my kids and make it a family activity or schedule my volunteer time when my kids and husband are otherwise occupied.
- Eye Contact: I make eye contact with my children when we speak. I also work very hard on listening. In a recent conversation with my 15-year-old, I realized he was not looking for advice or even encouragement. When he verbalized his frustration with the stress of school, my first reaction was to encourage him to embrace it. I quickly realized he just wanted me to acknowledge his frustration. After apologizing, I took a step back and just listened. No further intervention was requested or required.
- Physical contact: I hug our kids a lot. Research has proven the importance of physical contact with newborn premature babies as well as with children of all ages. I find every opportunity to hug them, remind them how much I love them and even ask for hugs for myself. Sometimes my son will even look at me and ask me if I need a hug. It works both ways.
- Regular Family Activities: We schedule regular family activities, despite the wide age range of 4–18. On Sunday nights, we watch “old” movies from our childhood like Kindergarten Cop, Mrs. Doubtfire or Coming to America. The kids pick the movie, from limited choices of course, and the conversation following the movie is often lively.
- White Boarding: We create a family white board and have a weekly meeting where everyone shares their schedule. It’s a good visual reminder of who is supposed to be where at what time and also prevents over-scheduling and duplicate appointments. My kids understand the responsibility of adding events and appointments as they come up as well as erasing the board at the end of the week.
How do you define a “good parent?” Can you give an example or story?
For me, a good parent is one who is not looking to be a friend to their child but take their parenting role seriously. When I say seriously, I am suggesting we put the same energy into raising our children as we invest in our jobs or careers.
My definition of a good parent is one who is attentive, who knows how to keep their kids love tank full, understands and helps them differentiate between needs and wants while also having the ability to admit mistakes.
I am never perfect only human.
How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?
Dreaming big is a favorite family mantra. My office is covered with inspirational quotes. I add one to our family white board each week. It’s the premise of the vision boards we create as a family each year. It’s also the foundation of how my husband and I parent our children. When our kids express a desire to do something, instead of saying “no” or expressing doubt, we encourage them to explore the solutions, brainstorm the possible outcomes, experience them and then revisit.
Here is one of my favorite examples. After experiencing a graffiti tour, our oldest son, who loves to express himself by drawing, was inspired to cover our white backyard fence with graffiti as his parting gift before college. While my internal first reaction was to limit his talent to a less exposed area, I took a deep breath and started the conversation of how he plans to do it, how long it will take him, what will be written on the wall and what is the plan if the mural is not what we pictured. He went back to the literal drawing board and came back with a design which incorporated many of our favorite family sayings as well as familiar icons, emojis and other meaningful colorful objects. He gave all family members the opportunity to review and suggest and then went ahead and created this incredible graffiti wall that we all love. By the way, there was a back-up plan which involved repainting the wall white. Thankfully, the backup plan was superfluous.
How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success?”
Success for me is not defined in dollars and cents nor is it a fixed phenomenon. It is a feeling I experience when I have made good choices and my life feels balanced. Success is having the freedom to make those choices and the opportunity to look at those choices and make changes.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?
The journal I use in my daily routine offers challenges to complete. One of the challenges was to listen to Brene Brown, someone with whom I was not familiar. It was 6:00 am and the podcast was 20 minutes. I listened to four of them, back to back and I was hooked.
Brene Brown has the uncanny way of reading my mind, of taking my thoughts and feelings and intuitively putting them into words. She broaches subjects like vulnerability and shame, topics which are so personally relevant. Listening to her allows me to better understand myself. The better I understand myself, the better I am at parenting my children.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This is an extremely difficult question for me to answer as I am obsessed, in a positive way, with quotes. The white board in my office always has a quote; I have pillows with quotes and quotes handwritten in the kitchen. And I am constantly adding new ones and erasing old ones to keep me focused on the moment, though the old ones are often filed, either in the back of my mind or in a drawer for future reference.
If I had to pick one life lesson quote, it would be “Everything is figureoutable,” by Marie Forelo. I am a firm believer that it is counterproductive to get stuck on the problem. Instead, channel your energy and efforts into creating solutions. This is how I started my online speech therapy company. The challenges of scheduling, weather and traffic in a brick-and-mortar speech therapy office could be solved by taking the therapeutic process online. I also use this solution-based approach when dealing with my children. When they present a problem, my response is, “Let’s brainstorm solutions.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would choose to inspire a movement that empowers and promotes communication. It’s been a priority in raising my family and it is the cornerstone of Great Speech. In my head, I picture the campaign modeled after the groundbreaking 1971 Coke commercial, “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony,” with individuals of all ages sharing a message about expressing themselves in perfect harmony. The ultimate goal would be to promote language development, social skills and communication from the very young to the very old, at home, in schools and at work. This coordinated effort could change the quality of our lives in a positive direction.