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Language Development

Language Development: 3 Tips on How to Get Your Preschooler to Cooperate –Nearly Every Time

Being a preschooler is awkward at times. Your preschooler is no longer the sweet toddler who will fight you to the last pretzel crumb, and yet he still has time until he possesses the easy self-confidence of the first grader.

Children who suffer from weak language development can be especially difficult, since they have the desires of a child their age without the language to express it.

In the meantime, your preschooler is a little bit like a moist butterfly struggling to free itself from the chrysalis. Unsure of whether he wants to be “big,” you may find him resorting to baby talk in the morning while insisting on doing everything by himself  later on in the afternoon.

Naturally this yo-yo-ing is bound to cause quite a few clashes, as you try to figure out how much space to give your preschooler, and when. However, when do you find yourself at odds with your determined preschooler, there are several techniques  you can pull out of your once-upon-a-time diaper bag that are sure to gain your preschooler’s cooperation almost every time:

1. Make him want to do it. Usually we approach things from our perspective. We want our son to eat his lunch because it’s healthy, and because we took the time to prepare it. We want our daughter to stop jumping in the mud puddles because we don’t want that new dress to get ruined.

What if instead, you stopped to consider the situation from your child’s point of view?

Instead of insisting that he eat his food because it’s healthy (so you say), why not remind him that if he eats all of his food he’ll get tall enough for that new “big boy” bike he’s been pestering you about? Of course you have to make sure he understands he won’t grow tall right away, but he wants that bicycle so strongly that he’ll probably be willing to eat cold fish soup to get it.

2. Say it with a smile. It’s amazing how simple it is, but a genuine smile softens even the worst of blows. Not only can a smile say I love you, and I enjoy you, but a smile can also show sympathy at having to break up a good pillow fight to send your mini-marauders off to bed.

3. Show how you care about what is important to him. Let’s face it: in the day to day grind of taking care of small children, sometimes your mind starts to operate on auto pilot. You don’t mean to, but at the end of the day it seems sacrifice enough to be listening at all, after having been immersed in Little People Land for several hours.

Despite this, try at least a few times a day to show interest in what your child enjoys and is enthusiastic about. Stop what you’re doing, make eye contact, and make sure your voice tone shows you are genuinely interested. You’ll probably find your child needs less attention from you.

4. Let her feel important. At the end of the day, small children aren’t much different in this than their grown-up counterparts: everyone likes to feel important, in some way.  Children try in so many ways to feel important – sometimes by imitating the grown-ups, sometimes by showing off a new skill.

But if your child doesn’t have a legitimate opportunity to strut her stuff, she’ll find some other way to do it, and it won’t always be pleasant for you.

Give your child a chance daily to show how big she is, whether that means helping set the table for dinner, folding and putting away her clothing, or helping bathe her baby brother.

She’ll not only be happier and more cooperative, but she’ll be eager to pay back the favor - and will do so by being extra cooperative, even during times when you would have expected her to balk.

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Language Development

Language Development: 6 Must-Know Tips on Helping the Child with Weak Expressive Language Skills

If you think that speech therapy is the only way to help the child with weak language development, think again. There are numerous reasons why you, as your child’s primary caretaker, are a great candidate for helping your child. First of all, your child spends a relatively limited time in therapy. And as a parent, you know your child inside out.

Second, you know that when your daughter shrugs her shoulders she’s feeling overwhelmed, and that “umba” is short for “I’m going bye-bye.”  You also know what motivates them, and you probably have a good idea when they’ve had enough.

Last of all:  you spend more time with your child, whether it’s in carpool on the way back from school, or waiting in line at the grocery store. And time, in the therapy game, is a deal maker.

If you’re feeling incapable of teaching your child on your own, then consider this: you’ve already taught your child some of the most difficult tasks he’ll ever accomplish. And look at it this way: helping your child learn to express himself beats cleaning up walls, toys, and the insides of shoes (she told you she didn’t like them, didn’t she?) smeared with poop ANY DAY.

Now for those six tips:

1) Encourage your child to elaborate.

Children with weak language development tend to speak in short, incomplete sentences. They don’t always express complete thoughts, either because it’s too difficult for them or because they assume you know what they’re talking about.

Instead of accepting this state of affairs, explain to your child what elaboration is, and why it’s important. When your child reverts to incomplete, cut-off, or non-sequitor sentences, follow up with an “I need you to explain that part to me a little bit more. What/Where/How did that happen?

2) Play 20 Questions.

You can play a new twist on this family favorite that will help your child learn how to describe objects in more detail. First, you choose something in the room. Then you start giving details about it, one detail at a time. After each detail given your child gets a chance to guess what you’re thinking of.

Because your child can look around in the room, it will be easier for her to guess what you’re referring to. And when it’s her turn to describe an object, she won’t have to rely on memory; she’ll have a visual stimulus right in front of her.

3) Discourage the use of words like “stuff” or “thing.”

Encourage your child to think of the word she really wants to say, rather than relying on these vague filler words. If he struggles with word retrieval issues, encourage him to give clues about what he’s referring to. For example, if he wants to say hot dog, he can say “you eat it on a bun. It’s long and thin.”

Once you guess what the word is, don’t automatically tell your child the word. Instead, just say the first few sounds or syllable, and let your child fill in the blank.

4) Be careful not to embarrass your child in public.

While improving your child’s speech is a noteworthy goal, not all places and times are ideal for doing so. Don’t ask your child to give long or complicated answers, if they’ll have trouble getting their thoughts together. If your son makes a grammatical error, don’t correct him in front of everyone; wait until you get home, and tell him there.

5) Make sure your child gets a chance to speak.

It’s easy to get in the habit of helping your child finish his sentences, or explaining what he means to other family members. But if you want your child to improve, you need to step back, and give him a chance to use the skills he is learning.

Also, if there are other children in the family who are very verbal, you will need to step in and ensure that your quieter child gets to have his say too.

6) Shut off TVs, DVDs, cell phones, and other gadgets during specific times of the day.

If you want your child to improve her expressive language skills, there has to be a time when meaningful conversation can take place. A conversation with your daughter with the TV in the background, cell phone in her hand and iPod in yours is bound to fail.

Furthermore, the “rules” of texting and chatting discourage lengthy conversations, and encourage poor grammatical usage.

So set a specific time of day for “unplugging.” Whether it’s at dinner, before bed, or after 10:00 in the evening, doing so will not only improve your child’s ability to talk, but will strengthen family ties as well.

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Language Development

Language Development: 10 Signs That Your Child May Have a Language Disorder

Ever have moments when every word that came out of your mouth sounded as if you had claimed citizenship on the planet Mongo?

Verbal bloopers like calling someone by the wrong name, or taking ten minutes to say what could be said in half the time, are fairly common occurrences, though embarrassing. Usually, most people write it off to tiredness, or stress. But imagine if you’re a child with weak language development: what would it be like to have a whole day filled with these kinds of verbal bloopers – and more?

The unfortunate truth is that your concept of how intelligent, personable, or successful a person is, is  based largely on how articulate they are. While we are willing to make some exceptions for the strong silent type, there is still an underlying prejudice that a person whose speech is not their strong suit isn’t quite “smart” or “with it” enough.

Children especially suffer from this perception. All day long they are forced to perform, whether it’s for teachers, classmates, or parents. They often don’t know when they’ll be tested – as when a teacher calls on them suddenly in class, or they have a limited time to gather their thoughts and come up with a reasonably articulate answer.

Further complicating things is that a child may understand you perfectly (receptive  language), and may even know the answer – but getting the answer out may be equivalent to getting out of the Mirkwood Forest unharmed.

Here is a list of 10 symptoms that point to the possibility of your child having a language output problem, also called an expressive language weakness:

1) Hesitation or labored speech. This is the most obvious of symptoms. Children speak using a lot of filler words (“Umm, well,”), and speaking is clearly hard work for them.

2) Take a long time to say very little. If you’ve ever heard someone take too long to get to the point of things, then you have an idea what this looks like. If your child has this problem, you may find yourself hurrying them along, or prompting them, in order to get to the main point.

3) No connecting words. When you speak, you use words like “and” or “then” or “next” in order to connect two different ideas. Children who have weak language output often leave these words out, making it hard to understand how their ideas fit together.

4) Using too many common words. Some children prefer to use very common words when they speak, even though you know they can understand words that are more complex. That’s because the words that are frequently used are easier to pull out of their mental word bank.

5) Difficulty clarifying or revising what they’ve said. This is a child who when asked to explain what they meant, seem to shut down. They understood what they said previously, but they find it hard to condense what was said, or say it in other words.

6) Have a hard time taking another person’s point of view. The child who has social difficulties often suffers from this. They may run up to a friend and start tickling them; it doesn’t occur to them that their friend might view this as an attack on their person. Or, they might say, “We’re going to Kim’s house today after school,” without taking into account that the listener may have no clue who Kim is.

7) Excessive grammatical errors. While some amount of grammatical mistakes might be expected due to a child’s age or environment, children with weak language development will make more mistakes than other children who are the same age and cultural background.

8) Overly simplistic speech. Children who display this symptom often sound as if they are writing a message for the telegraph company: they use far less words than would be expected, even if more are needed in order to understand what they’re saying.

9) “Dumbing down” their thoughts. If you’ve ever read an essay or report from a child that seemed far too simplistic for the child you know, then you’ve seen this action. This may be a child who has a wealth of complex thoughts and theories running through her head, but unfortunately is unable to bring out this treasure trove of ideas.

10) Their everyday speech is better than the more difficult language of schoolwork. It can be tempting to assume a child who is articulate with his peers and family doesn’t suffer from weak language development. However, the speech that we use everyday between friends and family is not the same as what we read in textbooks, newspapers, or other sources.

If you are unsure whether or not your child has any of these symptoms, choose a specific period of the day to observe them. For example, you could listen and observe your child for 2 or 3 days during carpool, or during dinner. Try to have at least 3 instances to choose from, just to ensure that the one day you choose to observe your child was the day they were out of sorts.

Stay tuned for the next post on how to handle weak language production at home-coming soon!

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