How to Encourage Your Young Child’s Communication Development
(Part 1 of a 4-part series)
Part 1: The Power of Waiting
- · To allow enough time to respond. Even very young babies often imitate sounds and gestures (e.g., waving) if given enough time to respond. Imitation is an integral skill to learning to communicate.
- · To see what your child is interested in. Instead of initiating an interaction and choosing a toy and how to play with it, wait while closely observing your child to see what she wants to play with how she wants to play with it. For instance, if we watch and wait while reading a book, we can see what the child looks at and comment on it (e.g., “That’s a rabbit. He goes hop, hop.”). Commenting on what is of interest to your child is much more impactful than simply reading the story or commenting on pictures she isn’t interested in.
- · To avoid anticipating your child’s needs. E.g., Wait for your child to ask to have his shoes fastened before rushing over and fastening them. Wait for him to ask you to blow bubbles before blowing them.
- · Depending on your child’s level of communication, you’re waiting for a facial expression, a gesture, a sound, a word, a phrase, or an action. Any communication attempt that may have otherwise never occurred is a success and fosters overall speech and language development.
- · To see how the child responds to a question or comment. We often ask a question (E.g., “Should we blow bubbles?”) or make a comment (e.g., “Let’s blow bubbles!”) without waiting to allow the child enough time to respond.
- · As mentioned above, to see what your child is interested in and follow her lead.
- · Wait with an expectant look. This can be done by leaning forward, widening your eyes, and/or opening your mouth.
- · Wait for up to 10 seconds. That’s a long time and likely much longer than you are used to waiting!
- · Wait for your child to ask for help or for an object or action as long as she still appears interested in that activity. If she has moved on to another activity or toy, follow her lead. For example, if you were waiting for your child to ask for another cracker before giving her one but she moved on to eating her apple, say “I guess you are all done eating crackers and want some apple.”
- · As long as she does not appear to be getting too frustrated, wait for your child to request something. If she wants the top off the bubbles but isn’t indicating this in any way, even with extended waiting, and is getting frustrated, go ahead and open the bubbles, saying “It looks like you need help to open the bubbles!”
- · Wait for your child to communicate in a way that you feel she can be successful. If your child is starting to use many sounds and gestures, use waiting to encourage more of this type of communication. If your child is imitating single words well, start waiting more to increase her use of single words.
- · There will be times that waiting is impractical: you are in a hurry, or you or your child is tired/hungry/etc. In these cases it’s okay to reduce waiting and anticipate your child’s needs a bit but try to make this the exception and not the rule.