What to do to Support Children as they are Getting their Communication Skills Going

author/source: Suzanne Ducharme MacFarlane, MS CCC-SLP

photo by:  tanaphong toochindaIn my first article in February, I wrote about some of the common myths of language development, the “conventional wisdoms” that can actually lead parents in the wrong direction when trying to support their early language learner. Today’s article is going to provide some more specific information about what to do to support children as they are getting their communication skills going. These are some of the most common strategies I give to parents in my practice.

  1. Limit the complexity of your language. Although it is good for children to hear full and complete sentences, you can use simple, repetitive words and phrases to encourage younger children to imitate.
  2. Rephrase and repeat. As noted above, children benefit from repetition. For example, when building a block tower, saying “up, up, up” can be just as effective as saying “put the block on top of the tower.”
  3. Be on their level: This means getting on the floor and being at eye level with a child. They are most attentive to what is directly in their experience, so be a part of it!
  4. Use daily routines: Things you do every day provide a language-rich place to model vocabulary, concepts, action words, and social language. And because these routines happen every day, and sometimes even several times a day, they help assign meaning to words.
  5. what-do-support-children-as-they-are-getting-theirLimit distractions: Surprisingly, even having a TV on in the background can detract from a language-rich interaction. Put down the phone and get completely involved in your child’s play. Even 5-10 minutes can be surprisingly productive.
  6. Follow the child’s lead: Make sure that you are wrapping language around what your child is doing, looking at, or interested in. Children do not respond well to language that is not contingent, which can be frustrating for parents. However, if you tune in and use some of the indirect language strategies you can easily learn, you may be surprised at what your child will say or imitate.
  7. Validate the content and model the form: This is an important point. Children are much less frustrated when they know that they are being understood. When you say to them “I understand you want the ______” and then work with them to try to get a sign, word or word approximation, you may be more likely to get an attempt.
  8. Limit use of test questions: Children, especially those with language challenges, do not like performance demands for its own sake. While it may feel like you are getting language to ask questions that are easy (what color is this?), these kind of questions do not stimulate language or interaction. Use yes/no questions for actual choices, and save the WH questions for times when they mean something.
  9. Use Wait Time: When we are working with a child to get more language, it is tempting to jump in and fill in the blanks. Sometimes kids need a little bit of extra time to answer or respond, and we want to give them that time. We also want to create those opportunities, those temptations, to allow them to initiate and not just respond.
  10. Use choices strategically: Children like to feel in control (don’t we all). A lot of decisions are made for them, and they do not often have a say. We can use what I call “micro choices” to provide them with a measure of control (Do you want to put on your left shoe or your right?) and can sometimes stave off a tantrum.
  11. Bonus tip! Use the Rule of Three:  When you are trying to get a child to request or label something, offer 3 opportunities to imitate or produce a sound, sign, or word approximation. After the third attempt, model again and hand over the object. It gives an exit strategy but encourages children to put some effort into moving their expressive language along.

If you are interested in hearing more about these strategies, I recently did a series of FaceBook lives on my business page, The Offices of Suzanne Ducharme. Each day I posted a common pitfall of language stimulation and give alternatives that are proven to move children along with their communication skills. Feel free to watch on my page and drop a comment or question. I always welcome the opportunity to work with parents and young children.

Next month I am going to write a different kind of article, one about moms and something that we all are working with these days: Surrender.

The Offices of Suzanne Ducharme

15 Farrar Farm Road Suite 4 Norwell, MA 02061

(339) 214-2906 [email protected]

Copyright 2018 by Suzanne Ducharme MacFarlane, MS CCC-SLP