In my previous post, I touched on how important it is to create opportunities for your child to communicate. This is important for all children, but especially for those who are developing language a little more slowly. Often, very small changes to how we interact with our children can make a significant difference, and today I am going to give you some suggestions of a few little things you can try.
Let's picture a typical morning at home. Your little one is up for the day. You grab some clothes out of the cupboard and attempt to get them dressed whilst they race around the room giggling manically. You go downstairs and start to make yourself a cup of tea. Whilst its brewing you quickly toast and butter your child's bread, pop it on a plate, and get them to the table. Afterwards, you put out a selection of their favourite toys whilst you dash around tidying and washing up. Maybe you even get to drink your tea!
Okay, so maybe your morning isn't exactly like that, but chances are, there are some similarities there.
Really, there is nothing wrong with the above scenario. Life is hectic and busy, and the parent described knows their child inside and out - they know what they prefer to wear, their favourite breakfast, which toys they like etc. But what could be done differently....?
Your little one is up for the day. Whilst they race around giggling manically, you pick out two t-shirts, a red one and a blue one. You hold them out and say 'Which T-shirt? Red or blue?' Then you wait for your child to make a choice. If they can't talk yet, hopefully they will indicate their choice by grabbing, pointing or looking at the one they want. Then you can model back the language for them - 'Red! You chose red.'
You go downstairs. You know your little one will want their usual toast and butter, but instead you hold out the bread and a box of Weetabix and ask 'Toast or Weetabix? Which one?' As above, you wait for them to make a choice, then reinforce the language, repeating back the choice they made.
You cut the toast into fingers, put a couple of fingers on your child's plate and keep the rest back. Chances are, your child would like the rest of their toast! So, they need to ask for it. When they have finished, hold up another toast finger and ask 'More?' Again, the ultimate aim is for them to say 'More' but any form of communication is positive - signing, pointing, vocalising making eye contact with you etc. None of this communication would happen if all of the toast fingers were available at once. Reward their communication with an enthusiastic 'More!' and put it on their plate.
Now its play time. But don't put out all of their favourite toys. Maybe you put one or two toys where they can see them but can't reach them. Maybe you put the pieces of their favourite puzzle in a clear tub which they can't open. This means they are going to have to ask you for help! When they point at the toy, or come to you with the tub of puzzle pieces, say 'Help?'. Give them time to potentially copy your model, or to communicate that they would like help in another way, and respond by immediately getting the toy they want, or opening the tub.
In both scenarios the outcomes are the same - your little one is dressed, fed and has had a bit of playtime. The difference is that in the first scenario, all of this happened without the child needing to communicate with you at all. In scenario two, the child was offered choices, encouraged to ask for more, and led to ask for help. There is a real element of 'cruel to be kind' with these approaches, but the benefits are significant.
So in summary, my top tips for creating opportunities for communication:
1. Offer choices (for clothes, food, toys - anything you can think of!)
2.Give a little, but keep some back and encourage them to ask for more (try this at snack time too, as well as with toys, bubbles are a great example)
3. Don't make life too easy - a little sabotage means they need to ask you for help (put toys out of reach or in clear containers, and maybe at meal times put something just out of reach).
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