Thursday, March 25, 2010

Week 11 What's Your Name???

As a parent the one thing that we want to hear more than anything is for our child to call us by name. It reassures us that they know who we are and that they can call us if they need something. It just feels wonderful to hear "mommy, momma, daddy, dada"! So, of course as our child is beginning to vocalize we may say those sounds to our child and since they are pretty easy sounds to imitate, your child hopefully will be producing those words easily.

But what if they don't? So many times I hear parents say to their child, "who am I?" "what's my name?". Let's think about how this looks from your child's point of view. They hear you refer to yourself as "mommy/daddy" often throughout the day, for example, "give that to mommy", "give daddy a kiss", "daddy/mommy is going to work, bye bye" etc. So, they probably know who you are. But since they know who you are and you know who you are, the question "what's my name?" comes off as almost a trick question. And it might even be confusing to the child.

So, what can you do to help your child "pop" your names? One suggestion might be to play hide and seek. One adult hides in the house, or just goes into another room and the other parent and the child go looking for the hiding parent. While looking the adult is modelling "mommy, where are you? Mommmmy" once again being animated and a bit exaggerated. And of course we are having fun. So you are on your search and go to the kitchen and don't find mommy. You might say "no mommy" and then start your search again saying "mommy, where are you?". And you would continue this until you find mommy where you might say "I see mommy, hi mommy". Or "there's mommy". This sort of activity is also great when other family members are visiting to help your child learn grandparents/aunts and uncles and other significant members of the families name.

Another activity that will help is anything that is playful with the person whose name you are focusing on. For example, "let's get daddy" and chase daddy around. You might be adding models of "go daddy", "stop daddy", "kisses for daddy". Just think of the word that you would like to "pop" and then model it throughout the day and week in many different situation.

By doing these activities you are giving your child those important models to imitate and you have made it into a game so the child is having fun which will encourage more interest in trying to find "mommy" and hopefully want to join in with the words and call the adult.

This leads me to another question that parents ask that can also be confusing to their child. And that is "what's your name?" The reason I say that this is confusing is that most children know that YOU know their have been using it since the day they were born, so why are you asking them that question? I know why you are, you want them to learn how to say their name and respond to "what's your name" when a person asks them. But for you to ask your child that question just doesn't make sense.

Let's think of a different way to work on your child learning how to say their name. One idea might be to look at a photo album and and if your child's name is "Nathan" you would say "Nathan" while you point to a picture of them. You could also say "mommy" while pointing to a picture of yourself. Label, point and then wait and see what they say or do. Do they point to the picture of themselves and smile? Then your turn might be to say their name again and you might even add on pointing to them and saying their name with delight too. Yes, we are once again focusing back on the turn taking and modelling.

Once the light bulb clicks on and your child realizes that their name is "Nathan" and they start to use it, it will be much more meaningful if they learned how to use it in a way that makes sense to them instead of being asked a question that might be confusing.

One more thing to be aware of is the phrase "SAY........". It looks like this, "say cookie if you want a cookie. You can't have a cookie until you say cookie." "Say more", "say all done". You know you do this, we all have :)

But what I would like you to do is take a minute and think about how you would feel if someone said to you "say coffee", "say goodnight", "say hello to your coworker", say........". I don't know about you but I do not want someone else telling me what to say. And if I am about 2 years old I REALLY don't want people telling me what to say.

The problem with the "say" interaction is that you are setting up a power struggle. If the child doesn't say what you want them to say they are basically being punished because they won't get the item. I know that you think if you make them say the word, you are expanding their vocabulary. And how often have you heard the word at least once before so you KNOW they can say it, so why aren't they saying it now? That is frustrating for you and it can even become a worry if they don't say words consistently so you want to make them say those words again and more.

I totally understand your frustration and I also can see most children not wanting to play this game. It's not necessarily fun and you are deciding what your child wants to say instead of having your child figure out a way to let you know what they want. I know that's a close call, but the more your child let's you know what they want without you telling them what to say, the more meaningful on an emotional basis the communication is for your child.

During this week try to decrease the amount that you say "say...." to your child and once again switch it into a model of a word /sign/gesture that they can imitate and be successful on their own. The more times they communicate without being told what they should say, the quicker they will realize that THEY can communicate on their own, that they have the ability and once that clicks, they will want to do that more and more.

As always, have a great week!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Week 10 Anticipation

When your child is an infant your job is to anticipate their needs and meet those needs as quickly as you can. This lets your child learn that you are there when they need you, that you understand what their needs are and can provide the care they need. And that is just perfect.

Now, as your child gets a bit older and we are focusing on helping the child learn to communicate, we need to step back just a little bit and try not to always anticipate your child's needs but let them "tell" you what they need. Now, don't get me wrong, I am not saying to not meet your child's needs or frustrate them or be mean to them. Let me try to explain how this would look.

Your child is sitting in their highchair and they drop their fork on the floor, or their sippy cup, or whatever. Instead of quickly picking it up and giving it back to them, I would wait and see what they do next. Your child might look over the edge at the object and then back to you; they might point at the object on the floor; they might even fuss and whine. Let them take their turn, which would be any of the above actions and then you take your turn. You might say "oh no!! cup fall down" and maybe gesture with your hands out and palms up. Make your comment, use some animation and then wait. You gave them the words, a gesture and all your attention, so let's see what they do. Build on your child's next turn. Do they say "oh no"? Do they look again at the object and then back to you? Do they point? If they do any of those things it's your turn again, so exaggerate pointing at the cup, or looking at the cup and maybe say "oh no" again. See if you get another turn. In the end I would finally pick up the object and say "cup up", or even ask the child a question "do you want the cup?" and follow it with a head nod and say "yes" while you are picking up the cup.

Now of course this could become a game of throwing things on the floor and watching your animated expression, and I am not looking for that. But this is just an example. Here are some other ideas of ways to not anticipate, or as I sometimes refer to it "playing dumb :)"

-Your child brings you their sippy cup and you only put a sip or so in it and then hand it back. The juice will be gone quickly and your child will want to request that you get them more juice in some way.

-Your child is trying to open the playdough container and instead of rushing over and doing it for them you wait.

-You enter a room at night and don't turn the lights on right away.

-A DVD they are watching is done and they want another show on.

-They spill their milk...don't clean it up the first second...wait and see.

-Do the unexpected like putting their socks on their hands.

-Say we are going outside and don't open the door right away.

These are just a few suggestions so let your mind start thinking this way and you will see many times during your day that you just assume that your child wants something but they have not made any communication attempt to tell you that.

Once you set up the situation and are waiting to see their turn, think about what you are going to model for with not opening the door you could look confused at the door, knock on the door while saying "knock knock" (kids love to imitate knocking). And then wait.....and then maybe model "open door!" like you are telling it to open. Then look surprised at your child because it still isn't open. And wait. And then maybe model "open?" and turn the doorknob and once it is open you can say joyfully "open :)" and out you go. Now of course you will have another time to try this when you want to get back into the house.

This activity is fun so please don't push your child and the waiting to a point where they are frustrated and angry. Focus on fun and works best in that frame of mind. And pick one or two times a day to try this, not all the time because then it won't be fun.

And don't feel guilty. Sometimes when I have had parents do this they feel like they have been "bad" because they do everything for their child. That has been your role up until now and children need to have that security and if you are reading your child so well that they get their needs met just by making a noise or whining or just pointing and looking, that's OK. That's more than OK, that's being a caring parent. But now let's take that next step on the developmental ladder and help them learn that they can let you know what they need. They will feel proud and you will have helped them on their way to be a confident communicator.

Have a great week!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Week 9 Who What Where When How and Why?

As you can see from the title of this weeks post, we are going to talk about questions today. Here's what I would like for you to do before you even read this entire post. I would like you to interact with your child for 10 minutes and count how many questions you ask your child. I would guess that in a 10 minute period you would ask as many as 20 or more questions. Maybe have someone else count for you while you interact.

As adults we ask lots of questions! Remember in a previous post I said that as adults we talk quite a bit and don't let our child have enough time to jump in. Well, this is another time where we will find that we are interferring with our child's communication by asking too many questions. LOTS OF QUESTIONS!!

Let's take a minute and think about your child, the one that might be having trouble expanding their vocabulary or stringing words together. Here we are as adults asking, "what do you want for dinner? why aren't you eating your peas? do you want more milk? why are you poking your brother? do you want a time out? etc. etc. So many questions.

Here is another example, you and your child are playing with a truck. You might sound like this: "should the truck go up? what color is your truck? how many wheels does your truck have? do you want me to go first? what are you doing with your truck? which one is going to win?

If your child is having trouble with communication we might just be overwhelming our children with all the questions that we are apt to ask. How do you think they are feeling? Even if they are starting to form an answer in their head, they may not have the vocabulary to support it. And they might feel frustrated over this. Once frustration has set in the activity is no longer fun and communication attempts will decrease.

So what can we do? I have a couple of suggestions. The first one is instead of asking questions, make comments instead. This is how that would look. Let's use the truck example. Instead of asking "should the truck go up?" you could say, "my truck is going up...up, up, up". Once again we are then giving your child a model to imitate and the words to use. Instead of asking "what color is your truck?" you could say "I have a red truck, you have a red truck too". Instead of "how many wheels does your truck have?" you could say "I see wheels, one, two, three, four! My truck has four wheels" and then I would count the wheels on your child's truck too. Instead of "do you want me to go first?" I would say "my turn" and then make truck noises as I moved my truck around.

As you can see, by making a comment you are giving the child great models and exposure to new vocabulary which will allow your child the opportunity to take their turn and increase their communication skills.

When you ask your child a question, make it a choice. This is what we talked about last time. Instead of "what do you want for dinner" you can say "do you want mac and cheese or cheeseburgers for dinner?" and maybe have the box or picture nearby. With the trucks you could ask "do you want the blue truck or the red truck?" and then once they pick you way "oh, you wanted the red truck". In addition to expanding what is going to come out of their mouths it also expands their understanding of concepts.

If you ask a question that is too open ended, then answer it too. For example, if you hear the garbage truck outside you could ask "what do you hear?" While listening together I would follow up that question with "I think it's the garbage truck, let's go look". Once again we are expanding both language that they will understand as well as say.

When you are asking a yes/no question be sure to add exaggerated head motions along with the answer. Adding animation, gestures, pauses and expectant looks on our faces gives the child the best chance to be successful at completing the communication exchange.

Let me know how this week goes. It can be difficult to change asking questions into making comments but even if all you notice from this activity is the amount of questions that you are asking, that will be a huge improvement. Just being aware will help changes be made.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Week 8 Choices

Today we are going to talk about a very easy hint that we can use to get those word/signs popping. It is the idea of giving choices. When we are focusing on helping our child pop some words we need to find the easiest way for them to be successful. So giving the child a choice is a great way to narrow down all those millions of words out there that could be a possible response.

When we give a child a choice we are giving them two words to pick from which improves the possibility that they will be able to say one. Let's look at this in detail. Your child brings you their cup and hands it to you. Now, you could easily assume that they want more juice in that cup and fill it. But, instead I want you to walk to the refrigerator with the cup and your child and bring out two possible choices for your child. You could use something like "do you want milk or juice?" and at the same time show the child each of the containers.

Now what might the child's response be? The child might touch the container that they want. The child might say "doo" for "juice" or "mik" for "milk". Or they might even say the word. They took their turn, what do we do next?

If the child touches a container, let's say it was the juice, we could say "juice", you want more juice, thanks for telling me." "Mmmm, juice, num, num". This could be added while you are actually filling the cup. Honestly you could respond just the same if the child gave you the word approximation or the actual word.

The important thing is to validate their choice, which is also their turn, and then you take your turn which might just get another turn out of your child. Especially if you make that "num, num" comment sound a bit exaggerated and fun.

Let's look at another example that will help you child learn how to make a choice as well as maybe popping a word/sign. We will use the same example, your child brings you their cup and you know that they want more juice. So you and your child go together to the refrigerator, you take out the juice and maybe pick up an object that is not a drink, like a spoon. You ask your child, "do you want juice or a spoon?" and once again follow what your child gives you. I know that this sounds a bit odd because of course your child wants the drink, but this will give your child a good chance to make the correct response.

What would you do if your child picks the spoon in this example? I bet your first thought is to say "no, you want juice". But then you might be missing a learning moment. If your child picks the spoon, give them the spoon, with a smile on your face and say, "oh you wanted the spoon" and then maybe repeat the word "spoon" as you hand it to them.

You will get one of two responses. The child will either give it back to you, or throw it, and protest in some manner and then you can say "no spoon" and take it back and then show them the juice and say "juice?" with a question in your voice. I bet that you will get a smile from your child or maybe try for a head nod indicating "yes".

Now the other response is that they take the spoon and are just fine. I might take that moment to grab a spoon too and pretend to be eating with lots of "num num" comments. And then see what your child does. At this point you aren't sure if they wanted the juice or not or if they understand the concept of making a choice, but it still can end up to be a turn and a chance to get some words popping.

If you truly don't think your child understands the concept of making a choice, then I would make it very easy for your child to get their juice. I would only bring out the juice from the refrigerator and just say "juice, you want juice" and then pour juice in the cup maybe adding your "num num". And then wait and see what your child does.

What I am trying to show you is that anything can be made into an opportunity to expand your child's language skills. And by giving choices you are expanding the words that your child says as well as the words that your child understands.

I hope that you will try this during the coming week and see how it goes. Remember, this shouldn't be taking up much time, hopefully these hints are things that you can do during your normal daily routine.

Have a great week.