By Barbara Bryant, CCC-SLP, Valley Medical Center’s Children’s Therapy Clinic
Think about how you usually play with your young child. What are your favorite activities together? What makes you both giggle and feel joy? Now, stop for a moment and think about what words are coming out of your mouth when you are interacting.
Like many of us, I often feel the urge to fill the silence, or ask directed questions to try to teach new words and check for understanding. I think of this as my “drill sergeant” personality. Here’s some examples of what I might sound like:
- What color is that?
- Who’s running?
- How many ducks are there?
- Where is the boy?
- What shape is that?
There’s nothing wrong with these questions, but too much of this, and you may find yourself directing the play and the activity while your child passively comes along. You will also get lots of one-word answers. Your child may feel stress or anxiety about getting the answer wrong and start to dread anything they associate with “learning.”
Instead, I challenge you to pick a 10-minute period of time where you can focus entirely on playing with your child and try not to ask a single question. Try using comments, narration, filling in the blank, and also allowing enough silence for your child to fill in. You can think of this as your “tour guide” personality. You are getting to experience the activity at the same time your child is, and you both get to share ideas about what you are interested in. Some examples of what this might sound like are:
- Wow, I see a duck! I can’t remember what ducks say…(Child may say quack here.)
- Oo, there’s so many animals here. I see cats, dogs, goats…(Trail off and allow child to name or point to more.)
- I love pretending to be a dinosaur. They can stomp on the floor! (Stomp and then see what your child does next.)
- Look, the monkey is jumping on the…(Allow child to fill in “bed.”)
It may feel strange at first and you may worry that you are missing out on the chance to teach important concepts to your child. But try it out and see if it positively impacts play time! Challenge yourself to see how long you can go without a direct question or try to use two comments for every question you use. Whenever you ask a question, ask it no more than three times, and after the third time, give the answer so that they understand what you were asking.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, you can talk to your primary care provider and ask if a referral for speech therapy would be appropriate. If so, you can ask them to send the referral to Valley Medical Center Children’s Therapy. We serve children from birth to age 18 in a variety of areas, including pronunciation, stuttering, feeding, language use and language expression, comprehension, reading, social skills, and many others! We are located across the street from IKEA in Renton. Come see us!