We all want to see our children thrive and meet their developmental milestones. But what happens when your child is a late talker or delayed in their language development? It is likely that we find ourselves in the trap of asking our children countless questions. And while this can be a good way to test our child’s knowledge to better understand what they know, too many questions can act as a conversation stopper versus fuel language learning.
Change Questions into Comments
In fact, too many questions at once can feel overwhelming and can cause some children to “shut down”. Further, if they do not have the answer to the question being asked, it can lead to frustration or simply ignoring your future questions. So, the next time you are playing with your little one, instead of falling into the question trap, consider turning your questions into comments. For example, if you are playing with cars, instead of asking, “What color is it?”, you can model, “You have the blue car.” By modeling language that is matched to what you and your child are doing, you are providing a language model for them to use when they are ready.
Use Fill-In the Blank Statements
When you do want to determine if your child has a specific word for something, you can turn your question into a fill-in-the-blank statement. So, instead of asking, “What does a cow say?”, you can say, “The cow says _____,” and then pause allowing your child the opportunity to fill in the last word. For a reluctant child this can be an effective way to take the pressure off from being asked a direct question.
Use Labels Versus “This” or “That”
When our little ones cannot tell us what it is that they want, we often find ourselves asking our children to make choices. We might do this by holding up two objects and asking, “Do you want this or that”, while showing them their choices. And while this may be effective in determining what our kiddo wants, it does not build language. So, instead use the labels of the items that you are offering as choices. Such as, “Do you want an apple or a banana?” while holding up an apple and a banana. By providing a specific language model, your child is learning the appropriate words to use in the context of which they are modeled and will begin to imitate you when she is ready.
Respond to Non-Verbal Communication
Sometimes when our child is not yet talking, we can find ourselves doing all the talking for them. And while providing language models is a good thing, talking too much can leave our child little room to join in on the conversation. So, consider the fact that a conversation does not always have to involve talking. In fact, children learn the basics of conversations well before they learn to talk. For example, when children take turns in play or interactions such as imitating movements to songs, they are building their conversational skills. When we stop talking it allows our child the opportunity to initiate. So, consider taking a moment to sit back and wait to allow your child the opportunity to start a conversation. When your child points, reaches, or makes a sound, treat it as a conversational turn by saying or doing something afterwards to keep the conversation going!
The key to promoting language development is by encouraging children to engage in conversations. And while we want our children to be able to answer questions, it is best to practice balancing questions with comments. A balance of comments related to the child’s interests and genuine questions (those that don’t test the child) will keep the conversation going. Questions that test the child, are too difficult, or don’t relate to the child’s focus at that moment are conversation stoppers. By using conversational starters such as waiting to allow our child to initiate, to take a turn in the conversation by saying or doing something following our child’s turn, modeling language using specific vocabulary and commenting, we are paving the way to fueling language learning.