So often I go into homes to help families because their child isn’t talking; only, to determine that the child’s environment doesn’t require them to communicate using words. In fact; most times, the parents don’t even require their child to communicate in order to gain access to items/objects within the environment.
My first-time parents are the biggest offenders (no judgment I was once this parent too, as a matter of fact, Luvs even made a commercial about it); they all too well assume the role of a servant; catering, to their child’s every need, forgetting the most important need of all: EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION.
While language is all around us; it must be specifically taught and your child’s immediate environment is where it all begins. Here are 5 ways to set up your child’s environment during mealtime to promote communication:
- Place your child’s favorite food next to their high chair and place an empty bowl in front them. Ask them “What do you want?” This simple change almost always promotes communication because it forces your child to use words/signs to gain access to something they really want: food.
- Try giving your little one foods that require a utensil to eat; but, withhold the spoon/fork until they ask. (this method takes skill as the child may just begin to eat by hand, also note that this is not recommended when the child is very hungry)
- Kids love juice! Place your child’s favorite cup on a surface out of reach so they must ask for help in getting it. This works really great after having a salty snack.
- Portion out snacks such as chips, cookies, pieces of fruit, etc. so that they must ask for more each time.
- Place snacks or desired items in plastic containers that require them to ask for help to open the container to obtain the edible.
Can you tell that the best time to stage the environment is during meals and snacks? Why? Because everybody loves food, including your child!
Disclaimer: As with adults, children’s views are the same; CHANGE IS HARD! From birth, your child communicated wants/needs through differentiated cries. As they became older, they may have crawled and walked over to desired items while an adult was right there anticipating what they might want and most times willing to give it to them, never making the connection that not only do words have meaning, but they actually help in gaining access to all kinds of things. Fast forward to now, simply whining or pointing no longer works, the adult in their life now has expectations and is suddenly disrupting their whole world by requiring them to speak/sign to get things. So, it is to be expected that there will be some spikes in behavior; but, hang in there its survival of the fittest and GOOD COMMUNICATION ALWAYS WINS!
So, let’s remember; words don’t work unless you do! That means, give your little one the opportunity to make requests before just handing over preferred items. Label things in your environment as you make them available to your child and most importantly allow them time to respond. You’ll be amazed at how valuable words become when they lead to good things.
Lastly, if for some reason, your little one still does not attempt to use words or other behaviors began to happen, consult your pediatrician or speech-language pathologist to assist in determining whether or not a delay may be present.