In my LAST POST about Strategies to Help Your child Talk, I talked about modeling and how you need to require that your child use language. However, when I say “language” here, I am not only referring to using words. The “language” you are requiring could be the use of gestures, signs, pictures, etc…anything that is getting your child to communicate to you. And how do you do this? The best way is to set up the environment for communication by embedding communication temptations into your child’s day.
What is a communication temptation? A communication temptation is an activity or situation that is set up to “tempt” your child to use language.
How do you use a communication temptation to get your child to talk? You want to first set up the communication temptation. Then during the activity, you will want to model the language you want the child to use. This is important. You need to model so the child can use your model to learn how to communicate. Your model should be just slightly beyond, or slightly more advanced, than what they are already doing on their own. So, if they are not speaking at all, you may model signs, words, or possibly using a picture to request an item (this all depends on the individual child). If they are using only single words, you will want to try to model two word utterances. Then when they attempt your model, reward them with the item.
What are examples of communication temptations? There are so many different ways to set up your child’s day to “tempt” them to use their language. Here are some suggestions of communication temptations you can use to help get your child to communicate (adapted from Wetherby & Prizant, 1989).
- Take a toy that your child enjoys playing with, and remove the batteries. Wait for your child to realize it is not working and model for him/her the language you want him to use. For example, you can model the sign or word “broken” or “help”. When he does so, put the batteries in and give him the toy. Repeat with other toys.
- Take a toy that your child REALLY loves and start playing with it, not allowing your child to play. When he is starting to indicate he wants a turn, model the language you want him to use, like “Car Please” or the sign for car, or giving you a picture of a car in exchange for the car. Once he attempts requesting for the item, give it to him immediately.
- Give your child only some parts of an activity or toy, but not all the parts (like only 1/2 of a puzzle, or only 3 train tracks). When the child begins to indicate that he realizes pieces are missing, model the language you want him to use. For example, “Track please” and then hand him another track piece. Then require him to request again to get more tracks. I do this ALL THE TIME in my sessions with children. My Thomas the Train set is one of my MOST USED therapy items!
- In relation to the example above, during an activity try giving you child an item that does not fit (like a puzzle piece that doesn’t fit, or a piece of train track that won’t work, for example). Model the language you want him to use “Uh oh! Doesn’t work! Need another!” etc.
- While playing with your child, randomly take away some of his toys and wait for him to indicate he wants them back, and then model the language you want him to use.
- Engage your child is a fun social game like tickles, peek a boo, or swinging on the swings. After playing for a short while, pause to give your child an opportnuity to request more of the activity. Model the language you want the child to use (for example, rather than allowing “more” I would model the actual verb like “tickle” “swing” or “peek”).
- Activate a wind up toy, let it do its thing, and then when it’s done wait for your child to indicate that he would like the toy to be wound up again. Model the language you want him to use.
- Get out bubbles, blow a bubble, then put the lid back on and hand it to the child. Wait for the child to indicate that he needs/wants help. Model the language you want him to use.
During Mealtimes/Snack times:
- Grab a food that you KNOW your child loves, and eat it in front of him/her without offering her any. Wait for your child to indicate that they want some, and then model for them how to appropriately request an item. This could be modeling using a sign, gesture, or a word (depending on how your child is communicating at this time). When he attempts to request in a more appropriate manner, give him the food item.
- During meals or snacks, rather than giving your child all his food at once, only provide him with a couple bites of each item. When he is indicating he wants more, model the way you want him to request. For example, you could model the sign “cracker” while saying “cracker please” and so on. I suggest NOT using the word “more” to request for more, but rather the name of the item.
- Give the child a food you know your child does NOT LIKE. Model the language you want him to use like “no” or “no thank you”.
In the environment/routines:
- Take some of your child’s toys (that he REALLY likes), and place them in CLEAR bins in a place that is visible for the child but not accessible. Your child will have to request the items from you. Model the language you want your child to use (i.e. the sign or word for the item like “trains” or “trains please” or “I want trains please”).
- Don’t allow your child free access to things like food, the computer, TV, iPad, CD player, etc. Put them away (but visible, when possible) so that your child needs to request to use them. Only allow limited use, then put away so they will need to request to use the item again.
- Change up your routine. For example, “forget” to brush your child’s teeth or “forget” to give your child a bath. Model the language you want the child to use “Uh oh! Forgot bath! Need bath! Brush teeth!” etc. (Other ideas: place the child in a different seat at meal times, drive home a different way from the store, try serving dinner foods for breakfast, etc).
- Provide obstacles: For example, tell the child you are going to go outside…after you have put a chair in front of the door, or locked the door. Model the language you want your child to use “Uh oh! There is a chair in the way! Chair! Move!” etc.
Ok, so I tried some of these and they didn’t seem to work. My child just walked away! What went wrong? This is important: for these strategies to work, the child needs to actually WANT the thing you are “tempting” him with. So, if you give the child a puzzle, for example, with only a couple parts and he just walks away, the toy simply isn’t motivating enough at that time. Try something else. Some children are more challenging than others to get to use their language. I find food works REALLY WELL. Also, another tip: to make toys more motivating (to make your child WANT that toy) put it away for a while (like at least a week) where the child cannot see it or play with it. Then try again. A child will be way more motivated to get a toy if they do not have free access to it all day, every day.
A quick note about the word/sign “more”: I mentioned earlier that I do not typically recommend using the sign or word “more” when teaching your child language. Rather, you should try to teach them the word/sign for the item they are actually wanting more of (like cracker, milk, apple, puzzle, etc). It is very wasy for a child to simply use “more” to indicate he wants more of something, but them he is not getting the opportunity then to say/learn the actual name of the object. So, using “more” can actually limit your child’s vocabulary while you are trying to do just the opposite. So whenever possible, model the sign/word for the item and NOT the concept of “more”. Once your child knows and uses the name of the object to request, you can add “more” to his/her utterance: more milk, more crackers, etc.
What other strategies can I use to help my child’s language development? Check out these posts in my Strategies Series:
I hope you find some of these ideas useful! Please feel free to comment or email me with questions!