Strategies to Help Your Child Talk: Commenting and Asking Questions

In my last two posts on Strategies to Help Your Child to Talk (that you can read HERE and HERE), I explained the strategies of self talk, parallel talk, descriptions, expansions, extensions and repetitions. Today I am going to discuss how to use comments and questions to help expand your child’s language.

Make comments about your day: Comments are similar to self talk and parallel talk. However where self and parallel talk are based on what you or your child is seeing, doing, or hearing in real time, comments can be made about things not happening right then or about things that are not in your child’s vision at that time. A great example of comments often used by parents during the day are ones that are explaining what is going to happen now, or what is coming next. For example, “We are going to go to the store after nap” or “It looks like it’s going to rain” or “We are having spaghetti for dinner.” Comments can also just be random information like “I like going to the park.” Comments can help inform the child of what is coming up next or can provide the child with more information on a topic. Using comments along with self talk, parallel talk, and descriptions should be part of your daily communications with your child from birth to help him/her acquire speech and language.

Ask your child questions, but not too much! This is something I see often: parents bombarding their child with questions that the child is unable to answer: “Johnny, what color is this? What is this? Is this a car? What sound does the car make?” etc. Think about it this way: How would you feel if you were in your first day of biology class and the teacher began to ask you question after question about biology? What would you do? You would probably freeze up, feel uncomfortable, and maybe even leave the room. This is how a child can feel when he/she is bombarded with questions all day. These kids can actually shut down and refuse to even try to speak…which is the opposite of what we are trying to do.

Before a child can have the ability to answer the questions, he first has to be in a language rich environment where the people around him are using self talk, parallel talk, descriptions and comments so he can learn the vocabulary and language first. Though it is definitely OK to ask your child questions sometimes that they cannot answer- especially of infants and toddlers (while then providing them the answer right after) you want to balance this with questions that he/she can answer without help while continuing to provide your child with good language models through the use of the strategies already mentioned. This is where open ended questions/statements are VERY effective.

So, be dure to ask a variety of different question types (explained below) and try to keep a balance between the amount of questions you ask, and other things you say like comments, expansions, and parallel talk. A good rule is to try to say 2-4 pieces of information for every question you ask.

Ask open ended questions: Make sure to ask your child open ended questions often. Open ended questions require more than just one or two words to answer and can allow for multiple ways to answer/explain. They can encourage critical thinking skills while requiring your child to use more language to explain himself. Examples of open ended questions include “What do you think about…” “What do you think will happen if…” “How do we make…” Why do we do….” “How do you feel about…” etc. These can include rhetorical-like statements/comments like “I wonder what will happen if…” also.

Ask a variety of different questions (but don’t expect your child to answer them all): You want to ask your child a variety of different kinds of questions (who, what, where, why, when, how, yes/no). Make sure that your questions are not just ones that can be answered using “yes/no” all the time. Using a variety of different question types will help to teach and expand your child’s vocabulary and grammar skills and help them to use language to predict, infer and draw conclusions about their world. As I explained earlier, some of the BEST types of questions to ask little ones are open ended questions like “I wonder” .

Use “I wonder” questions/statements (a type of open ended question): One way to expose your children to different types of questions before he/she has the language/information to actually answer them is to pose the questions in a rhetorical manner. Pose them in a way that you don’t necessarily need an answer, and then you can give them the answer if they do not/can not answer. You can use the phrase “I wonder…” to pose your question. An example could be you are playing on the floor with your toddler and your child has a red train. Rather than asking questions like “What is that? What color is the train? What sound does a train make?” Try first using parallel talk to talk all about what your child is seeing, doing and hearing (You have a train! Oh the train is red. The train says “choo choo!” Oh the train is on the tracks now!). Then you can pose a question like “I wonder where we should out the train station?” And see what your child does. If he moves the train station you can say “You put the train station next to the tracks!” If he doesn’t move it, you can move it while using self talk and comments to describe what you are doing (and thus “answering” your own question): “I think we should put the station….here! Next to the trees. Yes the station is next to the trees.”

Use expansions and extensions: When your child answers your questions, make sure to use expansions and extensions to further help your child build his/her vocabulary and language skills. For more information on these strategies, read HERE.

When should I start using these strategies? Just like with the other strategies I have discussed, these can be used from birth on. Obviously with asking questions, you would not expect infants and young toddlers to answer you, but asking the questions will help teach them the vocabulary, grammar, and use of question formations so when he is ready, he can start to ask YOU the questions!

What other strategies can I use to help my child’s language development? Check out these posts in my Strategies Series:

Parallel and Self Talk

Using Expansions and Extensions

Commenting and Asking Questions

Modeling and Asking Questions

Setting up The Environment for Communication


(I realize the pictures don’t really…”go” with the topic exactly today, but there just weren’t any great pictures out there for commenting and asking questions so I dug up some pictures of my daughter from a while back. Oh the memories! Hope they livened up the post!)

Please remember that this information is for educational purposes only. If you feel your child has delays in his/her communication skills, please speak to your pediatrician or locate a speech pathologist in your area for an assessment. Be sure to read the full TERMS OF USE on this site for more info. For tips on how to find an SLP in your area. read HERE.

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