Using Choices to Build Language Skills

Talk about speechWhen children are just learning to put words together, frustration can lead to tears all around, but there are ways to help your child’s communication skills grow. Using choices in every day routines is one easy way you can help your child.

Miscommunication Leads to Frustration

One of the most frustrating aspects of parenting a toddler can be trying to decipher the whining, pointing, and crying. You know your child wants something, but what? Most parents offer a range of options. Do you want a drink? A sandwich? Some cheese? How about some juice? Meanwhile, that sweet little toddler becomes more and more frustrated.

Why can't they understand me?

Why can’t they understand me?

Choices Aid Understanding

When children have choices, they start to feel a little bit more in control of what is in front of them. The question changes, the paradigm shifts. The key is to present choices that are acceptable to you. The question is rarely “do you want this or not?” As the caregiver, you determine the choices that you want to offer. Mealtimes and other routines (getting dressed, play time, etc.) provide great opportunities for incorporating choices in order to build language skills.

Some choices to try with your toddler:

  • milk or juice
  • red shirt or blue shirt
  • play cars or read a book
  • cookie or cracker

Notice that the choices are similar in context. One food or another food, one activity or another. These are very basic choices that help your child narrow down the category so that his response is very directed.

Don’t just talk about it, show it

For the child who is just learning basic language skills, it may be beneficial to pair the spoken word with some sort of visual–either presenting the actual object or a picture of the object to improve understanding. Abstract words can be very confusing, so if you are offering the blue shirt OR the red shirt, show both. Accept pointing or looking or however your child lets you know what the choice is and then reinforce, “Oh, you want the red shirt.” I’d even go on to use “shirt” in a sentence a few more times. “This is your shirt, this is my shirt.” Repetition is important for building comprehension.

Try it today

Try incorporating choice at the start of your next meal. Put a couple of food options just out of reach and ask which one your child wants to eat. If you really want to provide more opportunities for communication, you can offer one bite at a time. Oh, and if you really want to sweeten the pot (and be sure to get a response), make cookies one of the choices. :)

chocolate-chip-690418_640Let’s Keep In Touch!

I’d love to hear how this technique worked for your child. Leave me a comment or visit the Talk About Speech Facebook page to let me know how your child responds when given choices.



Rose Godfrey

Rose Godfrey

Rose Godfrey is a speech pathologist, writer, world traveler, and mom of 12.She earned her Masters Degree from California State University, Chico. Rose is licensed as a speech pathologist in several states and she holds the Certificate of Clinical Competence from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
Rose Godfrey

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