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4 Ways to Develop Trust as a School-Based Occupational Therapist

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Occupational therapists that are based in schools have some unique challenges to overcome when working with new students. It can sometimes be difficult to gain the trust of children who aren’t familiar with you and until you do, they may not see the results that you are hoping to achieve. With a little work, you can overcome trust issues and break down barriers that are preventing positive performance and progress.

Give Choices

Allow students some say in their therapy tasks. Each child learns differently and letting them choose when possible tells them that their individual thoughts and feelings are important to you. If there are things that aren’t negotiable, perhaps you can offer them a choice about when to do less appealing activities. When they feel as if they have some control and are being considered in their therapy, it will be easier for them to trust and follow your direction.

Show Kindness

Though this may seem overly simplistic, a little kindness really does go a long way. It can be easy and honestly human to be short and curt with a student on a stressful day or in a moment of frustration. However, the students that can be the most challenging and frustrating are often those who need the most kindness. While you certainly shouldn’t be a doormat with your therapy students, allowing them a bit of extra kindness and grace can help you to gain their trust.

Find Common Ground

When kids feel like they have a connection to educators, they’re more likely to respond positively. Get to know your students and their likes and dislikes. As you aren’t in the classroom with them as much as some of their teachers, you will have to go out of your way to ask them questions and dedicate time to getting to know them personally. Latch on to interests and activities that you have in common and incorporate these things into your therapy techniques. For instance, a child who loves dogs and is working on fine motor skills might enjoy tracing a picture of a dog rather than basic shapes.

Keep Your Promises

It can be tempting to make promises to get children to perform and often you won’t even realize that you have offered them an incentive. Empty promises are one of the fastest ways to lose the trust of a child. If you are offering a reward or incentive for a task or achievement, make sure that you have the means to follow through. If it is something that you must delay, explain why and schedule a time to make it happen.

It is important to remember that every child is unique and there may be a bit of trial and error involved to gain their trust. Partner with parents and teachers to find out more about your student’s personality and use that information to build a rapport. Once you have overcome the obstacle of developing the trust of your student, you will be able to help them more effectively and get the results they are capable of achieving.


Occupational Therapy is a thriving field – why not test your sense of adventure and consider a new position! We have opportunities in schools and medical settings that might just be your next dream job.

Contributor Lesley Slaughter

Lesley is currently a vice president with Soliant and oversees the schools' division. Her 14 years of staffing experience has helped grow our schools' therapy division at Soliant from 3 recruiters to over 100. Lesley is skilled in permanent placement, technical recruiting, and staffing services within public and private schools. She has worked with school districts and school professionals across the country, supporting special education, speech therapy, school psychology, and much more. She’s originally from Northwest Georgia, holds a Bachelor of Art’s in Broadcasting from Georgia Southern University, and loves spending time with her husband and 2 daughters. Make sure to check out the rest of her blogs on working in schools.