Robyn Chua Rodriguez is a mother, a UP graduate speech-language pathologist (SLP), a Christian, and the author of the children’s stories, Gail and Pablo, that captured the netizens’ attention for its empathic and relationship-sustaining approach to teaching children how to best react to relatable (titular) situations such as “When My Friend Cries,” “When My Friend Wins,” “When My Friend Smiles,” and “When My Friend Tries.”
Family and SLP Career
Robyn admitted that she is blessed to have fun and loving parents and an older sister she is close to. Her parents never pressured her to excel in academics, making her pursue education and work with genuine interest. When her parents learned that Robyn wanted to be a speech pathologist, she received “nothing but full support with their prayers and blessings.”
Before choosing Speech Pathology as her course program at UP Manila, Robyn was inclined to communication-based careers like reporting, hosting, and teaching, but teaching kids was her greatest passion. She initially believed that the scope of Speech Pathology was a combination of mass communication and education which would have been appropriate for her dream career, but she soon learned that it wasn’t.
Speech-Language Pathology revolves around studying and treating human communication and speech, language, and swallowing disorders in individuals of all ages. As an SLP, Robyn has been practicing her profession for ten years, specializing in assessing and treating communication disorders among pediatric patients in clinical and home-based settings. “My clients were students diagnosed with speech and language delay, language disorder, global developmental delay, autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, stuttering, and intellectual disability. I took a break when I gave birth in the middle of 2019. I just started accepting clients again this year,” she shared.
Children Imitating Bad Behavior in Kids’ Media
Many parents have witnessed their child imitating a character’s bad behavior, whether from a kids’ show or a children’s book meant to demonstrate what actions were good and bad. In one of her blog posts, Robyn expressed how even kids’ media can be harmful if children imitate bad behavior without genuinely understanding the consequences.
“Children will imitate what they are exposed to. They are like sponges that absorb what they hear and see in their environment. They are also young. On their own, they are unable to discern what is right and wrong all the time, so as adults, we have to be the ones to guide them and screen materials for them (be it books, movies, or cartoons) until they are mature and wise enough.”
Robyn recommended allotting time for the child and parent to process the show or film after watching it to combat this problem. “That’s the time you get to talk to each other about what you learned from the film, what you liked and disliked, what you agree/ disagree with, who we should imitate/ not imitate, etc.”
Gail and Pablo as Good Models
Gail and Pablo was first conceptualized in 2017 when Robyn saw the need for simple social stories that could help improve her patients’ vocabulary, comprehension, and social skills. The reading material had to be easily understandable so children, as well as her patients, could learn empathy with the help of Margaux Janelle Chua’s illustrations.
“The events Gail and Pablo experience are very realistic and relatable to children. Parents can use Gail and Pablo’s responses to show their children the right thing to do and say given a certain social situation. The readers may not yet have experienced the specific situation in the story (like losing [in a competition], seeing a bully in action, meeting friends with disabilities, or being criticized for their mistakes), but they can definitely learn from Gail and Pablo so that when the time comes that it happens to them, they would know what to do.”
So far, the series Gail and Pablo covered lessons on sportsmanship, friendship, inclusion, and encouragement with empathy as its overarching theme.
Child Development and the “15-Minute Magic”
Robyn is a steadfast advocate of intentional quality time. She asserted that it was critical to a child’s overall development, especially during their first five years, as failing to spend quality time together can affect the child’s physical, intellectual, and socio-emotional development. As the quality time between parent and child instigates meaningful and intentional communication, it will undoubtedly affect a child’s language, learning, and socialization. She added, “when parents become too busy with work and household chores, they can overlook the need for quality time with their kids. Yes, they may be spending hours and hours together each day, but the meaningful interaction and play that take place between them can be very limited. Children, therefore, miss out on a language-rich bonding moment with their parents and instead may just spend most of their time using their gadgets.”
For busy parents, it may be challenging to integrate intentional quality time into their routine, but Robyn shared a simple trick for parents to follow: “Parents can start with just spending 15 minutes of quality time with their child where they give their undivided attention—that means they aren’t digitally distracted. I call this the 15-minute magic because it can do wonders when the parent focuses on bonding intimately with his or her child through play, reading books, or just conversing and having fun. The child’s love tank gets full, his behavior improves because his need for connection has been met, and his language also improves if he gets enough stimulation from the parent. You can incorporate this 15-minute magic in the morning, afternoon, and night. Pretty soon, parents will find them spending way more than just 15 minutes.”
BONUS: Teaching Children to be Multilingual
Many Chinoy parents, especially those far removed from their first-generation predecessors, struggle to balance their child’s Hokkien, English, Filipino, and Mandarin skills. These days, Chinoy kids may only learn basic to intermediate Mandarin during their 1- to 2-hour Chinese classes in school.
Through daily conversations, Robyn exposed her young daughter to Hokkien, English, Filipino, and Mandarin. She recommended parents to do the same and to supplement their child’s learning with language-rich play time and books. “Flashcards are not the priority. Children learn best through play so simply communicate and interact with them in a fun and engaging way. Provide lots of models. Don’t keep testing to see if your child knows the word, instead provide more models and opportunities for your child to communicate.”
Parents can also have certain family members speak exclusively one language to the child, but it must be the language they are fluent in. For example, the mom will speak Chinese, the dad will speak English, and the grandparents will speak Tagalog. Alternatively, parents can use specific languages for specific activities. “I started reading books to [my daughter] in English and spoke to her in Chinese during everyday activities. My daughter now speaks in Hokkien and English and is using more and more Tagalog each day.”
She mentioned that the belief that children exposed to various languages will end up confused or with language delay is actually a myth. Being in a multilingual environment and receiving adequate stimulation from different languages promotes the child’s language development and enhances their cognitive and socialization skills. They also become flexible, as seen when multilingual children switch from one language to the other or combine them in a single sentence. “There are many advantages to being multilingual. Our children will have the tool to connect with people from different cultures and walks of life.”