I talk, you talk

By on March 10, 2014

When a child does not talk, adults often resort to questions to keep the conversation going.  However, questions often have the reverse effect, stopping conversation and leaving the child confused, annoyed and frustrated. In addition, questions tend to bombard or demand and often require only one-word responses. Overall, this conversation style does not allow a child to enjoy conversations or expand his or her language skills.

Many children, even those without language delays and certainly some teenagers, are difficult when it comes to keeping a conversation going. But, how can we avoid bombarding our children with questions? Research has demonstrated that caregivers who use fewer demanding utterances in the preschool years have children who develop significantly more language skills as teenagers.

So, what is the secret? Sometimes, it takes a conscious effort to ask the right questions. Here are some ideas:

Show interest, create anticipation and extend thinking skills.  Avoid constantly using”What?” and ask “What next?/ What  if…?/ What now?/ What’s happening? or What happened?”
Use “Choice” questions. For example, young children can more easily answer a question such as, “Do you want milk or juice?” than an open-ended question like, “What do you want to drink?” In addition, choice questions allow children to hear the word they are looking for in the correct context and avoid repeating a list of “yes/no” questions (e.g. “Do you want juice?/Do you want milk?.Do you want water?”).

The use of “Who/Where/Why/How”  Developmentally, these questions are more difficult. But if you use them during activities that interest your child, you can take advantage of his or her natural curiosity and promote more language. For example, ask, “Where’s the dinosaur hiding?” when playing hide-and-seek with toys in the sandbox.

Commenting  Avoiding questions altogether is a great strategy. For example, say, “Wow, your block tower is big!” instead of “What color is this block?” Or, “I like the dolly’s dress! instead of what’s her name?”The right questions or comments can be powerful conversational hooks that can promote language and social skills. So “hook” your kids, then watch their language grow.

About Dr. K. Bopp

Dr. Karen Bopp is a certified Speech-Language Pathologist and a Post Doctoral Fellow in Special Education at the University of British Columbia, Canada. She has worked with children for over 16 years and is also the mother of preschool twin girls. Her areas of expertise, (when she is not chasing after her twins), include early intervention for children with autism, speech and language development in the preschool years, positive behavior support, augmentative and alternative communication, and training for families and professionals.