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  • Tala Hershey

Tala's Tip: Don't ask, model!

Updated: Jan 22, 2021

Do you ever find yourself asking your child to say and label things? "What's this?" "Can you say _____?" "Say _____." Only to receive back a blank stare or complete disregard for your request? Well, think about it: Adults don't go around asking other adults to say words and label objects on command. We internalize what we hear, and then are able to generalize and use the novel vocabulary later on. Children are the same.

"Communicative intent" is an extremely important phrase we use in speech pathology. It means, just as it sounds, to intentionally use communication to get a desired outcome. Our goal as speech therapists and parents is for our children to have "communicative intent" when talking. Walking around responding to requests to label objects or repeat words is not intentional, its imitating. So, how do we work on building a child's language skills and vocabulary then? The answer: just model.

I have a rule of 3s: I model a desired word or phrase 3x, with some pause time between repetitions and a variety of intonations. On the 3rd time, I either provide the child with that object or perform desired action. For example, if a child hands me a box that they are struggling to open but they don't say anything... I know they want me to open it. Here, I would model "open" (and point to the box), "open?" ("you want me to open it?"), and on the third model I would say "open!" and open the box for them.

Trust me, they're getting the language input. I know you want to hear immediate language use, but you are mapping the language in their brains for them. This way, they will know in the future that they can say "open" to request opening the box. Keep modeling. I always have parents come back after a couple of sessions working on the same functional target words and tell me that their child is using it, or some approximation of the word, independently.

Just model!

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