Talking is hard. It’s a learned skill that takes precision and coordination of many tiny muscles. It’s going to take lots practice! Some little ones naturally give it a go, while others need extra motivation to work on this complicated new skill.
Today’s strategy is all about creating more opportunities in which your little one may want to speak up.
As we’ve established in previous posts, you probably know your child’s routines and day to day expectations better than anyone! And babies and toddlers learn best through routines and repetition. They help young children learn what to expect next.
As parents we are so used to meeting our little one’s needs (and usually so good at it) that some children simply don’t need to talk. When our kids were little babies we had to do everything for them! Even as they reach toddlerhood, our children are still highly dependent on us. That’s not going to change! We just want to use that dependence to create some moments when your little one may be tempted to communicate with you. In speech-language pathology, we refer to these as communication temptations.
I like to call this the “oops I forgot” strategy! Basically you pick a routine or two that your child knows very well and enjoys. While you’re going about it this week, try to “forget” the best part (or at least a key part). Leaving whatever this is within sight but out of reach for your little one.
So let’s say your little one loves bath toys. You could put him/her in the bath, just like you always would, but “forget” to put the toys in when you normally do. Instead have the toys sitting on the bathroom counter where your toddler can see them. Instead of putting them in just look at your toddler and wait. Try counting to 5 or 10 in your head or until your child vocalizes, does a hand motion, or speaks. When time is up or when your toddler does something to tell you he/she wants toys, you would say “oh toys! Mommy forgot! Here’s toys! Toys!”. (Bonus points if you can remember to hold a toy up to your mouth while you’re talking about “toys”)
By setting up a communication temptation, you are creating motivation AND drawing attention to key vocabulary words.
Let’s say your older baby/toddler is still too young to realize something is missing or just doesn’t care that something is missing.
Another way to create a communication temptation is to just give your child less of something than they’re used to. For example, let’s say your older baby or toddler loves puffs (what baby/toddler doesn’t?!). Maybe you usually pour a handful and give it to your little one. Instead of doing that, try giving your child only one or 2 puffs. Your little one will eat them and then will need to tell you that he or she wants more.
So again- wait about 10 seconds or until your little one does something to try to communicate- then model the language you would want your child to use, i.e. “More puffs. (Pause) puffs. (Pause) here’s more”. And actually give your child more while you’re speaking 😉
I’ve got to warn you…this strategy can be frustrating for little ones, but it works! So don’t write it off completely if your older baby or toddler gets frustrated. Our goal is NOT to frustrate your little one (young children are not primed for learning mid-meltdown), it’s to make things move slower than he/she would prefer so they WANT to communicate with you to speed things up.
I’ve got a few ways to tweak this if it’s upsetting your child:
Don’t overdo it– this is the big one! Maybe try this once or twice during the routine initially. So with the puffs you could start by only giving your child one. Then when they communicate with you, give them a handful. As your child gets better at communicating, you may be able to do it more times in a row!
Decrease wait time slightly– maybe only wait 5-8 seconds instead of 10 if your child is still getting frustrated
Keep it upbeat! We don’t want your child to ever think they’re not going to get what they want/need, we are just giving it to them a little slower than they’d prefer. So stay positive, this should not feel threatening to your little one at all.
Accept Any and All Communication Attempts– don’t push your child to speak if he or she can’t yet. Pointing is communicating too! So is attempted signing (if you’ve tried baby signs with your little one), vocalizing, and looking at what they want then looking at you! Give your child credit for trying then model the verbal language you’d want your child to use as you give him/her whatever it is. This is how you teach your child to say it!
So you’re going to do what you always do and pick a daily routine to incorporate this strategy into. I love this strategy for playtime because there are so many toys to “set up” a temptation with. Blocks or anything with multiple pieces would work well because you could just leave one in the container so your child has to tell you he/she needs more. Or you could try putting a favorite toy car, ball, or doll up high where your child could see it but can’t reach it. Snacks also tend work well. Even leaving a bottle or sippy cup on a counter when you know he or she might want it is a great way to tempt your child! You know what motivates your child better than anyone so feel free to get creative here!
I hope that I got you thinking about ways to create communication temptations for your little one! This is truly one of the best strategies to motivate young children to speak! Let me know if you found this helpful by leaving a comment or liking this page! I always love hearing from you!