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Helping children express themselves

We use facial expression, gestures, words and sentences to share our needs, wants, stories, and ideas.

When children have trouble talking they might:

  • search for words (um, um..) or use unclear words like thing or stuff
  • use only a few words, instead of the same variety of words as others their age
  • not talk very much about their day
  • have difficulty describing the steps for a simple activity
  • need you to ask a lot of questions to understand and follow their stories

How you can help​

Find topics that your child will be excited to tell you about

What is your child interested in? Does your child have an opinion about a certain topic? For example:

  • “Which super power would you rather have for a day—being invisible or having x-ray vision? Why?”
  • “Are there any vegetables you think should be banned from your table forever?”

Let your child communicate in any and all ways

If your child gets stuck on a word, it’s okay for them to:

  • point, act out the idea or use gestures
  • describe the idea
  • draw what the word means
  • take you to what they are taking about or give other hints

Keep the conversation going

  • For example, if your child says, “brussel sprouts should be banned from your table forever because they’re gross.” Ask if it’s the flavour or texture that they don’t like.
  • It’s okay if your conversation moves on to a new topic. You can always come back to the first topic if you didn’t finish it.
  • Take turns commenting or asking questions. Conversation goes back and forth like tennis.

Add to what your child tells you

  • Repeat what your child says and add a word. For example, if your child says, “Look! The bunny’s eating a carrot!” you could say, “Yes. That bunny’s eating a crunchy carrot.”
  • Make a new sentence using your child’s words. For example, “Look! The carrot the bunny is eating is almost gone.”
  • Add new words that mean the same thing. “Yes. The rabbit is eating a carrot!”

This is a great way for your child to learn new sentence structures and words. Listen for when your child copies you or repeats what you just said. Celebrate new words!

Ask questions to help you understand

  • Give choices, “did you say a train? Or a plane?
  • Ask questions that will help you figure out what your child is trying to tell you. “Where were you? Was it when grandma was here?”
  • Pause and give your child a chance to think about what he or she wants to say and answer your questions.

Additional information

  • Visit the Talk ​Box for more information about speech and language development.
  • For a list of games and game ideas that encourage talking, click here.

Try these games:

  • The Art of Children’s Conversations 4 years and up, by TAOC®
  • You Gotta Be Kidding Me! 7 years and up, by Zobmondo​​​®​

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