Childhood Development, Early Language, Uncategorized

“The Wait” in Communication

Speech Language Pathologists do a lot of talking. We describe, label, initiate greetings, continue conversations, facilitate conversations, etc. But there’s another strategy that is just as powerful- the “Expectant Wait”. When we pause and wait for a child’s response it gives them the time they need to process what was said and contribute meaningful information to a conversation. They are able to practice recognizing our nonverbal cues (silence, our body and eyes focused on them waiting) to know “hey- it’s my turn to talk now”. Here are some common ways Speech Language Pathologists use this seemingly simple strategy to encourage language production:

  1. Give them some….then wait
    • Snack time: Give them a few of the goldfish they love. Keep extra in sight and offer them “more” when they are ready. Have them sign, say the sound /m/ or, “more” to receive the goldfish.
    • Play time: Give them some blocks (or magnatiles, or puzzle pieces) but hold on to the rest. When they need more tell them they can “ask for more” when they are ready. Have her sign, say the sound /m/ or, “more” to receive each block. If your child has mastered “more” you can work on the name of the item or color.
  2. Show them their choices….then wait
    • Choices are powerful for little ones. It makes them feel like they have some control and offers a way for them to initiate what they want. As an adult, I offer choices that I want (don’t want that annoying singing Elmo as a choice? don’t offer it) but are also desirable to the child.
    • Give them two choices and ask “Do you want goldfish or blueberries?” Then pause for them to tell you. Before words you can practice pointing (a powerful gesture) to the desired object. If they are beginning to use words but just point, have the child imitate the vocabulary words as best they can.
  3. Put desired items just out of reach (but visible)….then wait
    • Put your child’s favorite book or toy just out of reach. This gives your child an opportunity to initiate requesting of highly preferred vocabulary items.
    • Put items in hard to open containers (playdoh, items in boxes with difficult lids, unopened milk, etc.) . This gives the child a chance to work on their fine motor skills with opening but also naturally prompts them to practice “help” or “open”.
  4. Sing a familiar song but stop short….then wait
    • The first phrase I usually do with this is “Ready, Set, ______(Go)!”. Kids love movement so it is motivating for them. If you pause and your child still doesn’t say anything (after 3 seconds or so) you can say it right before you let them do the action.
    • “Head, Shoulder, Knees, and Toes”-This is great for nonverbal practice of identifying body parts while doing big movements. Wait at the beginning or end of each verse (“Head, shoulder knees aaaaand ______”) to see if they respond by touching and/or saying “toes”
    • “Wheels On The Bus”- another great song that allows for hand gestures, sounds, or words to meet your child at their level. Start a verse “The horn on the bus goes _____” and wait to see if they will gesture and/or say the sound. If your child does well with this and you sing it often have them name the part of the bus they want to sing about!
    • Other Songs: “Old MacDonald Had A Farm”, “Ring Around The Rosies”, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”

When we wait, we are giving the child 3 seconds or so to respond in any way they can. Initially, this may be looking at the choice, pointing, or making a sound (the first letter of the word OR the sound the object makes).  If your child is using single words, expand their utterance by making a short phrase you respond back with (ie., “goldfish” you say “want goldfish”). When we meet a child at their level it helps us teach and model the next step in their ability to produce speech and language.

If you have any concerns about your child’s development talk to your child’s pediatrician and/or your local Early Intervention Program.

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