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  • staci

Stop saying, "Use your words"!!

Of course we all want our children to use words to communicate, however, not all children have the ability to "say words" or they may have feelings of anxiety surrounding talking. When we tell children to use their words we are making an assumption that they have words but are choosing not to use them. Moreover, creating an environment where a child is "put on the spot" to use his words may create anxiety and a negative attitude towards talking.


Asking too many questions when interacting with children can create a demanding, stressful environment. Children may become overwhelmed when they are being asked questions that demand a response. This type of interaction is actually counterproductive to language development. One of the tips I give parents is to make comments and narrate play instead of asking questions. In addition, I recommend that parents follow their child's interests and build upon what they are motivated by. Word learning and vocabulary development is enhanced when you attend to your child's focus! I teach parents how to model language which helps build vocabulary! Here are some ways to turn questions into comments and to foster language development in your child:

  • Give a choice: Choices are a great way to give a toddler some control. In addition, you are giving them a model of the word or phrase which takes the pressure off your child. Of course, you would honor however they choose to communicate what they want. For example, if the reach for it, look at it, or point to it you will accept that as their effort to communicate. Words are not the only way to communicate!

  • Model the words and wait: For example, if your toddler wants to open something, simple, model "help me", or "open" and wait! After 5-10 seconds or so, model the word again so they can hear the word paired with the action or object. Maybe next time they will just surprise you and "say the word".

  • "You can say ____.": Instead of saying, "Say help!" All you need to do is model what they can say instead of telling them to say something. For example, "You can tell me, help me daddy" and then move on. This reduces the demands places on your child and you are giving them the language to use without a power struggle. It also takes the confusion out of a general phrase like, "Use your words.".

  • "Let's tell him....": When other people or toys are involved, try talking to them! So, instead of saying, "Say go" try saying, "Let's tell him to go! Ready? Go!" Again, this creates a less demanding situation for your toddler as it feels more like a game you are playing together, rather than, a request to "say something".

  • Fill in the blank and wait!: Whether you are reading a familiar book or singing a song, have your child fill in the blank to a familiar phase. For example, if singing "Wheels on the Bus", leave the last part of a phrase off to see if they will fill in the blank. If they don't fill in the blank after 5-10 seconds then you say the words and move on!

Communication is more than saying words! If we want our children to learn language in a healthy, stress free environment, we must adjust the way we interact with our children by asking less questions, creating a less demanding environment and modeling language.

Staci Hickey, M.S.,CCC/SLP is owner of Universal Speech Therapy and offers online speech therapy to toddlers and children in several states including, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Florida, California and New Mexico. Universal Speech Therapy also provides school contracts.


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