Savana Earnest on Lessons for Working With Children Via Telehealth

As a second year graduate student at Marshall University, I envisioned an internship experience that was filled with one-on-one opportunities with students, small group counseling, tons of meetings, and everything in between. I could never have pictured a world like this. However, amid the stress and confusion, something great has come out of it. I’ve had experiences that I never would have imagined while completing my graduate coursework, including virtual assessment. Yes, you read that correctly. Think back to your graduate school days for a moment. Did you ever think that would be possible? If you said no, well, you and I are in the same boat. 

When you learn how to assess individuals, for whatever reason, you learn the basics of rapport-building, including conversation, positive body language, and semi-structured interviews. I have come to find out that, as with most things learned in the classroom these past two years, those facets go out the window when your client is on a computer screen. Here are a few considerations I have learned while working with children via teleconference:  

  1. Get the grownups involved — Have the client’s guardian debrief them on what they are going to be doing on the conference call ahead of time to ease any existing anxiety. I would also recommend having them on standby in another room for technology issues. 
  2. Get animated — As we all know, when working with younger children in person, we sometimes must put on a show. Well, that goes doubly for the online world. Tell stories and jokes, listen to and validate their interests, and do not be afraid to get a little silly. 
  3. Answer any questions they have — In my role as a school psychologist intern, kids most often do not know who I am, and questions are always likely to follow. To establish a strong rapport or relationship, do not hesitate to answer questions (within reason) about the process and what things you will be doing.
  4. Positive praise is a must — Guess what. Kids get Zoom fatigue too! Imagine how exhausted you would be after a 2-hour-long call, with a test involved. Kids need to know that their hard work is valued and appreciated. 

Graduate students are learning to do our jobs in a world where things are moving and changing rapidly. Some days are good, and others we come home weary from the stress and worry we carry.  I am reminded of a quote that is all too familiar to those associated with Marshall University: “From the ashes, we rose.” My experiences working in the COVID-19 era will undoubtedly shape me into a professional who is capable and equipped to handle any curveball that is thrown my way. Our field is changed forever by COVID-19, but rest assured, the graduate students of today are ready for what lies ahead. 

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