Welcome to my How to Help Your Child Talk series. These posts are intended to give you simple tips to help you work with your child so YOU can be your child’s best “speech therapist.” You may want to try out a new tip/strategy for a week or so and then when you feel like you’ve “got it” and it comes more naturally, move on to a new tip and incorporate that into your day for another week or two. For a list of all my tips, go HERE. This post contains affiliate links to Amazon for your convenience.
We have talked a great deal about how to really connect with our children in everyday interactions to help expand speech and language skills. Slowing down, being present, getting down at their level, listening with our eyes, following their lead, and responding meaningfully. In addition to all these tips, there are some small things you can to to “tempt” your child to communicate (and take the lead for you to follow) and we call these things “communication temptations.” We also use the term “sabotage” when using these communication temptations because sometimes we are “sabotaging” a child’s activities (in a good way!) to provide more opportunities for communication. Why would we want to use these? Sometimes, we are SO good at reading our children and following their lead, that we end up doing things for them before they even have a chance to communicate to us. We get into our routines and our children’s needs get met, but they have little opportunity to communicate. Here we’ll discuss how to make sure we provide our children these opportunities in our daily activities. These are meant to be opportunities to communicate, or take a turn if you will, not cause pressure for the child to talk. In reality, we want to gently provide opportunities for communication while decreasing the pressure to talk, for the greatest success.
What is a Communication Temptation?
A communication temptation is an activity or situation that is set up to “tempt” your child to use language. You want to first set up the communication temptation. Then during the activity, you will want to:
- WAIT for your child to communicate and then respond/reward with the item OR
- If he doesn’t communicate, you model the language you want the child to use. Your model should be with the child’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). That is, just beyond what they can do on their own. So, if he is 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 he is 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.
There are so many different ways to set up your child’s day to “tempt” them to use their language. As I mentioned, we also sometimes use the term “sabotage” as some of these tips involve you sabotaging your child’s typical day/play in ways that require him to communicate. Here are some suggestions of communication temptations you can use to help get your child to communicate (some adapted from Wetherby & Prizant, 1989).
General Daily Tips to Provide Opportunities for Communication
- 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. Then WAIT. Wait for your child to communicate to you, then if needed 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. Then WAIT. See what your child does.Wait for your child to communicate to you, then if needed model the language you want the child to use like “Uh oh! There is a chair in the way! Chair! Move!” etc.
- 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. Show him the container and then WAIT. Wait for him to try to open the container himself. Wait for him to attempt to communicate. Then if necessary, 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”).
- At nighttime, try mixing up your routine. For example, “forget” to read books, tuck him in, or any other part of your routine and then WAIT. Wait for him to indicate the part of the routine that is missing and then model the language you want him to use (books mama!, tuck in mama!)
Opportunities for Communication During Mealtimes/Snack times
- During meals or snacks, rather than giving your child all his food at once, only provide him with a couple bites of each item. Then WAIT. If 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. Then WAIT. See what he does. Then model the language you want him to use like “no” or “no thank you” if needed.
- Grab a food that you KNOW your child loves, and eat it in front of him/her without offering her any. Then WAIT. 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.
Opportunities for Communication During Bath time
- Put your child into the bath without any toys. Then WAIT. Wait for your child to indicate that he wants toys, then model the the language to request/ask about those items if needed (Where toys? Where boat? Boat please!)
- Put your child into the tub without water. Then WAIT. Wait for your child to comment/ask about the water, then model the language you want him to use (Where water? I want water!)
- Put your child into the bath with just a LITTLE water, then WAIT. Wait for him to attempt to communicate that he needs more water. Then model the language you want him to use to request more water (water? More water?).
Does my child need to say what I want him to say to get the object?
At first, not necessarily. The main purpose is to provide your child with opportunities to communicate, not pressure him to talk. Your child may need lots of modeling in the beginning where as other children may immediately respond. Remember, that you should be modeling within your child’s zone of proximal development (ZPD). That means you should be modeling just BEYOND what he is capable of. Then if your child attempts this new level of communication give him lots of praise and the item!
How Often Should I Do These?
It’s important to weave these moments into your day as naturally as possible. Over doing these suggestions can result in a very frustrated child. You’ll want to try a couple in a day, and see how it goes. Follow your child’s lead. Watch him and listen to him closely.
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 start eating a cookie in front of him and does nothing, he may not actually WANT the cookie right then. If you try to give him a cracker and he doesn’t indicate he wants more, he probably doesn’t want the cracker. You will need to be creative and try different things. 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.
In addition, remember that these suggestions are NOT the replacement of a speech-language pathologists skilled interventions. Every child is different and not every *tip* works for every child.
What if my Child is not Imitating Me?
If your child is not imitating you at all, there are some things you can do to help that I will be discussing in an upcoming post. However, lack of imitation is a red flag for more significant impairments, so if your toddler is not imitating you at ALL, I’d bring it up to your pediatrician.
Next up, I’ll be going over tips to use very specific to playtime! See you then!
For a list of all my other tips, go HERE.
Looking for more ways to help with your child’s speech and language development? ? I highly recommend these two books: My Toddler Talks: Strategies and Activities to Promote Your Child’s Language Development by fellow SLP and friend Kim Scanlon and It Takes Two To Talk: A Practical Guide For Parents of Children With Language Delays from The Hanen Centre.