We shared our go-to strategies for helping children learn to use words and increase language skills. But, what if you’re still struggling?

As much as we believe in caregivers’ ability to do great language building at home, we also realize sometimes it just doesn’t work the way you thought it would. You’re not alone! Even we as speech-language pathologists, are always adjusting our strategies and expectations!

That’s why we also wanted to share some answers to common questions we hear about using strategies at home. Although, please know these strategies do not replace treatment from a licensed speech-language pathologist (SLP). Please seek a SLP in your area if you have concerns about your child’s speech or language development.

Here’s 7 of our most FAQs about using strategies to build language at home!

How often should I use strategies at home?

The beauty of using strategies to build language at home is that you don’t have to set aside separate time in your day to practice. The goal is to highlight language in your existing daily routines. This includes diaper changes, sorting laundry, loading dishes, cooking meals, cleaning up spills, and car rides to activities. When you talk about what you’re doing, there is language everywhere!

How often should I correct my child?

Children with delayed or disordered language may make many mistakes as they start to learn and experiment with new words or communication. That’s expected. We can help them by modeling the correct response. However, keeping in mind they are still learning a new language, we want to support them through encouragement, not testing. You don’t have to correct them every single time. Too much correction will result in frustration for all. You likely know your child’s personality and response to feedback better than anyone else. Follow your child’s lead when giving praise and correction.

Does my child need to say the word before they get the object?

It’s important to know your child’s zone of proximal development when choosing a strategy for this question. Learn more about that here!

For example, your child may point to his cup to request a drink. If we hold the cup from them until they say “drink” perfectly, it’s likely the child will give up or become upset. Our expectation was too high and set the child up to fail. However, if we model “You want your cup. Let’s sign ‘give me’ so I understand.” and then wait until the child signs to request, that is more appropriate for their level. This will encourage the child to do even more next time.

We tried the strategies at home and they didn’t seem to work!

Here’s the most common problems we see when strategies don’t work:

  1. Too many strategies at one time. More is not always better here. We have to take baby steps. Pick one strategy and use it throughout your day consistently for a whole week before trying a new strategy. This will allow your child to adjust without becoming overwhelmed.
  2. Gave up too easily. Making changes takes time. Consistency in our expectations is key. Sometimes our child will push back to test us. When we give up, the child will push back harder next time. Only through consistency will our children learn. Have patience and trust that it will work over time.

I tried some new strategies and my child just walked away. What now?

Your child needs to be engaged and interested in your activity. She needs to really want what you have, enough to use words. If you’re eating green beans in front of your child and expect they will say “more green beans please,” you may be disappointed when you child doesn’t. They don’t want green beans, so why should they ask for more? However, if you pull out their favorite cheese stick and “tempt” them by eating it without offering it to them, they will be more willing to “work” for it by using a word/sign/sound (whatever level they are at).

This sometimes takes a little creativity. How can you “tempt” your child into wanting something? Make it super fun and interesting – and slightly inaccessible to them.

Sabotage (change) the environment

Like adults, children will do just enough to get what they need. Why use words to ask for what they want, if they can just go get it themselves? Try putting away and rotating out their favorite toys and books to encourage more language. Also, pretending to be forgetful is one of my favorites for this. Try putting their favorite toys in a closed see-through container they can’t open. Give them yogurt with no spoon. Anything so they need to ask for your help.

Make it fun

Another trick is to use a “magic grab bag” where you put something inside a bag that the child cannot see. It doesn’t even have to be fancy–let’s say a paperclip in a brown paper bag. You talk up that paperclip like it’s literally the best thing in the world. You shake it up. You pretend it tells you a secret. You peek inside, but don’t show them yet. “Oooo, that is cool!” You give them a quick peek, so fast they can’t see. If you’ve done your job of making it that interesting, your child may now be ready to ask for it!

My son cries until I guess what he wants. My daughter pulls me to things she wants. Where do I start?

These can be difficult, as we don’t always understand what the child is trying to tell us. However, both actions (crying and pulling you to objects) may be their only ways to communicate. We can shape these actions into more functional communication by using pointing, signing, and modeling. I often ask, “Can you help me understand by pointing to it?” “Help me understand by bringing it to me.” Maybe even offer two choices between what you think they may want. Then, I can model the sign or word for them to imitate or learn – “Oh, you want the blocks! Give me blocks.” Wait until the child points, signs, or produces a sound/word to reinforce the new communication.

If your child cries to request, but you know they are able to point, gesture, or try a wordit’s time to “up the ante.” It’s hard, but we must be careful not to reinforce the easy way out for children who can do more. Consistency in our expectations is the key (I’ll keep saying it!). It takes time to make a change. Your child will more than likely push back, and perhaps even use more extreme behaviors to get what they want–because that always worked in the past. Now, we are expecting they do something different – and ultimately easier – to get what they want. We want to reinforce their new attempts immediately to let them know the new way is better and crying no longer works.

How should I praise my child when they try to communicate or say a new word?

I’m guilty of clapping, praising, and over-doing “Good job!!” Although children may respond well to this type of praise, here’s a few tips for more effective praise that will better motivate the child to keep learning:

What do you struggle with when trying new strategies at home? Comment and let us know!

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