Getting Kids to Talk

Getting Kids to talk

Today’s post is about what needs to happen before a child will start talking, and ways to encourage verbal speech.

I’m sure this is no great shock to anyone, but language starts developing long before the first words are spoken.

When I worked in the preschool, they had a great handout called “Things that Need to Happen Before A Child Will Talk.” It was in THE BINDER. I got it at orientation, and it was big, thick, and alphabetized within an inch of its life. Well, I have tried every configuration of words in Google search, and I can’t find anything even close to it. Boo!

So, my little tribe, what did I do? I nearly squashed myself trying to get the box with my old schoolbooks down from the shelf in the garage. But I dug out my language development book, and ta-da! Here is my own version:

1) Mutual gaze- the fancy term for looking at each other. This leads to gaze coupling, which is alternating between making and breaking eye contact. This is important because it teaches children that eye contact is required to begin social interaction.

2) Imitation- imitating both facial and motor behaviors is important for language development because it shows they are absorbing social interactions and trying to “figure it all out.” This eventually moves into imitating vocalizations.

3) Intentionality- when a child starts doing things purposefully to get attention. Before speech, this is usually seen through gestures and specialized vocalizations (every mom knows what the “I’m hurt!” cry sounds like compared to the “I’m angry!” cry). This is the first time that the child considers his or her audience.

4) Theory of Mind- it is the concept that other people have independent thoughts and feelings. I’ll try to explain this at the infant/toddler level, because it’s a bit messy. Imagine you are an 18-month old toddler. If you don’t have at least the beginnings of theory of mind, you automatically assume that other people are hungry because you are hungry. If you do have ToM, you (subconsciously) know you need to let others know you are hungry.

5) Babbling- this goes back to imitation, but adds vocalizations. It is very rare that a child will speak before they babble (although I’m not claiming it never happens).

While this is not a comprehensive list, it does list the main pre-verbal milestones. I hope it helps to see where your child is, and what to work on.

So, we’ve talked about what needs to happen before speech, but now I want to give you a great reference for ways to get children to talk! Sometimes it seems like your child is doing all these things, they should be talking, but they just aren’t. And from both a speech therapist and a parent perspective, it is so frustrating!

Well, don’t despair. The Hanen Centre puts out an incredible freebie that gives 10 great ideas to encourage speech in young children. Here is the link:

Hanen Centre 10 tips

You just give your first name and email, and it is delivered straight to your inbox. These tips are seriously so awesome, and I don’t want to copy anything.

And along the lines of not copying anything, the textbook I referred to was Language Development: An Introduction, by Robert E. Owens, Jr., 8th edition. I am already having horrible flashbacks to my thesis so I’m taking a stand and most definitely not putting this citation in APA form.

If you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear them!

5 Ideas to Reuse Easter Eggs

Use Easter eggs to work on basic concepts.
Use Easter eggs to work on basic concepts.

First off, I hope everybody had a great Easter! Whether you are religious or just celebrating spring, I hope you enjoyed yourself.

However, if your household is anything like mine, you’ve now got more than a few plastic eggs lying around. Wondering what do to with those leftover plastic eggs?

Well, I’ve got five ideas for reusing them at least once before they’re sent off to the recycling bin.

1) Make homemade maracas! This is a fun sensory activity. Take a few eggs, and put different things inside each egg. Try rice, beans, pennies, cheerios, whatever! See what different sounds they make, and talk about how they are different. You could even put them in order from quietest to loudest. Just be sure to tape them closed- you don’t want an explosion!

2) Those plastic eggs are natural little scoops. They are perfect for playdough, sensory bins, in the sandbox, or even bathtime! Bitty babies especially like to scoop and dump, scoop and dump. Plastic eggs are also the perfect size for little hands.

3) Got a picky eater? Grab an egg carton, and line it with 4-5 plastic eggs. Put just a small amount of food in each (think 1-2 bites). You could even leave the tops on the eggs so that your child gets to open each one and try the food!

4) Create a sorting activity. Grab a box of Skittles, M & Ms, anything with a bunch of colors. Then, have your child sort the candy into the eggs by color. Just don’t let them eat too many!

5) Have an inside Easter hunt! I don’t know about you, but today is rainy and I’m already bracing myself for lots of wiggles. So reuse those Easter eggs and hide them inside! If your child is a little bit older (think 2 years and up), this is a perfect activity to practice those pesky prepositions like in, on, under, behind, over, inside/outside, etc.

So there you have it. 5 ways to reuse plastic Easter eggs.

I would love to hear from my readers! How do you reuse Easter eggs?

Big Feelings: Emotion Processing

Teach your child how to positively work through emotions and big feelings.
Teach your child how to positively work through emotions and big feelings.

We’ve made it to Part 3- How to Process Big Feelings! This is definitely the hardest part for all young children. Emotions are tricky in that they cloud your thinking and judgment.

For this, I am going to refer back to my CCCs- Clear, Consistent, and Calm. You need to use simple directions, consistent instructions/expectations, and remain calm. Your child needs an example of being calm, and getting into a yelling match with your child does not help anyone.

When your child is in the midst of a BIG feeling, you need to give them options for calming down. Giving them a choice between two good choices is much better than letting the emotions bubble over when forced to do something.

I would teach my students that they have three options- all involving the number 5. They could take 5 breaths, count to 5, or take a 5-minute break. We would practice all of these options, usually after we had talked about an emotional situation.

Typically each student would have one that they chose more often than the others. That’s okay- remember, the point is that they MADE the choice.

Repeat the calm-down technique until your child has regained control of their emotions.

Validate their feelings, but emphasize that it is time to feel happy and fix the problem (if necessary).

Whew! We did it! I hope this gives you some ideas for increasing your child’s emotional awareness and processing skills. Remember- the key to success is to be clear, consistent, and calm.

I really want this to be a community, so please share your experiences with emotional awareness/processing. And if you have any questions, please comment below!

Big Feelings: Internal Emotion Recognition

Recognizing Internal Emotions
Recognizing Internal Emotions

So, in reality, this post should be called, ” Why all speech therapists jumped for joy when they saw Inside Out.” Buuuut… that doesn’t fit well on a pinnable graphic.

But really. That movie is fantastic for explaining emotions to kids. It’s not often you get a tangible example of internal emotions and their effect on a child. It’s the perfect reference for helping a child identify and process internal emotions.

I have found that, for most children, identifying emotions within themselves is much more difficult than recognizing emotions in a character in a story. It gets even trickier when they feel wronged, betrayed, or otherwise angry.

So how can a parent make the jump from a story to the child’s actual emotions? Working with the special needs preschool population, I had success in creating a middle step. I made a simple small book just by folding a few sheets of paper and stapling. I then brainstormed with my clients about situations that would make them mad (the majority of my students struggled the most with anger). If your child can’t offer up their own suggestions, try framing the conversation so it seems like he or she came up with it.

I then gave each child a few minutes to draw the situation, such as, “So-and-so took my favorite toy” or “I had to leave my friend’s house.” This really helped each child to feel involved and validated. Just don’t let it go too long.

We then talked about how Mad the child felt, and slowly moved into “Well, you don’t want to stay mad forever. How can we feel Happy again?”

Like I said, this “my feelings book” concept worked with several children, even those with moderate disabilities. It was a perfect way to bridge the gap between speech/school and home, because the child took the book home and parents worked on it in a similar way. However, it is by no means the only way to address big feelings.
I have seen charts that have pictures of each feeling and children refer to those to discern those big feelings as they happen. See (Link to come) for a great tutorial!
You can jump on Pinterest and find so many great ideas.

My advice would be to be mindful of your child’s abilities, their language skills, and their attention span.

Next time I will have Part 3: Processing Big Feelings.

So how do you help your child label what they are feeling? Does your child struggle with this?

Big Feelings: Emotion Recognition

Big Feelings (2)

You will hear about big feelings on this blog. You will see what big feelings look like on this blog. Big feelings can be terrifying, maddening, overwhelming for both the adult and child.

For most young children, big feelings are usually ones of anger, frustration, and/or desperation. Chicka Chicka has big feelings when I am not doing what she wants or even (gasp!) ignoring her. Boom Boom has big feelings when he is denied something- if I say no, or take a toy away, or he can’t go outside. O how the world ends when that little boy can’t go outside. I get big feelings when I am frustrated, or tired, or hungry, or all of the above.

When my children have big feelings, I absolutely have to take a step back. I think it’s our nature as human beings to match other people’s emotions. If I don’t take a deep breath, or pause for a second before responding, I am much more prone to raising my voice or doling out a punishment that maybe wasn’t completely warranted (20-minute timeout, anyone?)

So how do we avoid these situations? How do we avoid those big feelings? The fact is, you can’t. Big feelings happen.

But don’t despair. There are several ways to proactively make those big feelings not feel so big.

The first thing to work on with big feelings is to identify them. Have you ever tried to describe to a child what being angry feels like? Sure, you can make a mad face and stomp your feet, but that actual sensation is tricky to put into words.

Luckily, Trace Moroney has done the work for us in his book “When I’m Feeling Angry.” It sums it up as follows:

“When I’m feeling angry, I feel like there is a boiling hot volcano in my tummy that is about to explode!”

If that isn’t the most beautiful description of anger ever. Paired with a cute little bunny. Trace Moroney has a whole series of big feelings books that include Angry, Happy, Sad, and Scared.

Reading books like these are a great way to teach a child how to identify emotions. Because, let’s face it, even adults aren’t real great at identifying emotions, especially when we’re feeling four or five at once.

Another way to work on identifying emotions is to have visual examples of the four main emotions: mad, sad, scared, and happy. You could turn these into a fun matching game, a “find the feeling” game, or use them in conjunction with a book to identify emotions as they change throughout the story. Just remember that in all these scenarios, the pictures and the feelings need to be simple and obvious.

This will take time. Big feelings are blurry and intangible. But finding external sources that teach children how to identify emotions is so crucial.

Stay tuned as I start talking about how to teach children to identify emotions within themselves.

2 Minutes to Cookies

In case you were wondering, yes, the title of this post was inspired by “10 Minutes to Wopner” from Rainman. So say it in his voice, it makes it so much better.

Today was a rough day. Nothing was going right, and we were all on each other’s nerves. Chicka Chicka had watched enough TV, which meant she was starting to get rowdy and I felt major mama guilt.

When I get overwhelmed like this, I grab Chicka Chicka and we bake. I usually don’t share these stress-induced treats with friends because I can’t guarantee neither of us didn’t lick the bowl. Wow, quadruple-negative.

Today we baked chocolate chip cookies. Nothing fancy. But I always set my timer to go off a few minutes before the cookies are done. Burnt cookies are the worst. So when I first check them, they look like this:

Almost done. But see that one in the middle? You can tell it’s still pretty gooey and not quite ready.

But you give them two minutes and you get this:

And people, they taste as good as they look. Everybody in my family had one, and we are only about an hour out from dinner.

So I lured you with pictures of cookies, but the point I’m trying to make is that sometimes you are so close, but you don’t know it. Your child may be so close to making a breakthrough, or a small victory might be right around the corner. And while you feel like your child should be farther along, or some developmental chart at your pediatrician’s office says they should be doing xyz, the fact remains you never know what the next few hours, days, or weeks will bring.

Keep up the good work. Everything you do matters. Even on the bad days that you feel like you’re not making any difference, you are.

You’re only two minutes from cookies.

The Cha-Cha-Cha

The cha-cha-cha

Can you tell I’ve got a thing about abbreviations? I’ve also got a thing for puns, but I don’t show that side of me until people show me their weirdness first. Or if Christmas comes along and you make my gift list.

But I digress. Today I want to share a toolbox strategy for helping a child work through big feelings or stop a behavior. I call it the Cha-Cha-Cha. And no, flamenco dresses are not required for it to work (although I don’t judge).

I would like to add this this strategy is intended to start after you have corrected the behavior. Whether this means after a timeout, or just saying “not okay!” , and/or apologizing is up to you.

The first step in this strategy is Chance. When a child has done something wrong or something that needs to be addressed, give them a chance to express their feelings or explain themselves. If they are nonverbal, they still need to express these feelings. There’s a good chance they did something naughty as a way to express frustration or sadness or some other form of wanting attention. Work through these feelings in a positive, progressing manner. See (LINK to come) for both verbal and nonverbal ways of working through big feelings.

In the heat of the moment, it is easy to skip this step, for both adult and child. But both of you need to be calm and rational before progress can be made.

The next step is Choice. Choices are awesome. Everybody loves choices. But I want you to think of eating at the Cheesecake Factory versus eating at In N Out. At the Cheesecake Factory, you can eat just about anything you want. However, unless you have a favorite, it also means you have to scroll through several pages of vastly different dishes until one speaks to you. At In N Out, there are less choices, but man, ordering those onions on my Double Double makes me stand a little taller.

My point? Too many choices are overwhelming, and having a choice between two or three options makes independent decision-making that much easier. It’s the same with children. If you give them two simple options of what they can do, as opposed to saying, “Just do something else!”, you are more likely to foster independence. Every choice your child can make without your direct support is a victory.

The other important thing about a choice is that you as the adult must be okay with the child choosing either option. Don’t say, “You can keep squashing your brother or go read your new book.” Extreme example, but you catch my drift. Remember, the point is not that your child makes the RIGHT choice, but that your child makes A choice.

The final step is Cheer. Children love praise, but not hollow or distracted praise. You want your praise to be specific to the current situation, as in, “I am happy you stopped throwing your toys.” Then, lots of hugs, cuddles, high-fives, whatever you do in your family. Go (HERE) to read my post on ways to say good job without actually saying good job.

I would like to throw in that it is also important to not make the situation up for discussion in the future. I don’t think Chicka Chicka is the only child that will bring something up days or even weeks later. I try to shut that down as fast as possible by acknowledging what she said, but also adding, “We fixed that problem. We don’t need to talk about it.” It’s better to focus on working through problems and letting the feelings go.

I hope that this has been helpful. As I’ve said before, this is not the end-all, be-all to solving problems with a child. It is a strategy that you can pull out of your toolbox and adapt/modify as needed to fit your child and the current situation.


The first tool in my toolbox is rapport. Even with your own children, it takes time to get to know them and have them trust you. As they get older, that trust moves from a purely biologically-based trust (as in, they trust you to feed them and change them and protect them), to a more communication- and emotion-based trust.

This first tool is a bit abstract, but bear with me. In college, I learned about a relationship pyramid. The base of the pyramid was your self-perception, or how much you trust and believe in yourself. The next level up was your relationship with your significant other. Do you communicate, do you validate each other, do you solve problems in a healthy and loving way? Moving up the pyramid, the next was your relationship with your kids. Do you get enough quality and quantity of time with your children? Do they trust you? The smallest part of the pyramid was discipline. The idea was that if there was a problem in one area, there was most likely an issue in the lower levels of the pyramid.

I know what you’re thinking- what in the world does this have to do with speech? But it totally does because a child won’t talk if they don’t feel the need to connect. Ditto for if they feel their attempts at communication are ignored. Every interaction with children is an opportunity to teach them that their thoughts, feelings, and intentions are valued.

So next time you are feeling completely overwhelmed or out of balance, try to remember the pyramid. The beautiful thing about it is it can always be rebuilt. From the ground up.

Earn Your CCCs!


Earn Your CCC's Checklist FinalIn the speech therapy world, CCCs stands for Certificate of Clinical Competence. That’s the fancy-pants version of Congratulations you did it now here’s your license! But here on this blog, I want them to refer to a toolbox strategy for communicating with young children. So from here on out, they will stand for Clear, Consistent, and Calm.

Clear- When talking to a child, you need to make your language simple and direct. Try to keep each sentence to 5 words or less, with a max of 10. And don’t toss around words like “responsibility” or “disappointed”- believe me, I’ve tried. Nothing loses your child’s attention like a word they don’t understand.

Part of being clear is also being specific. You need to specify what you are addressing; saying ” That is bad” is much less effective than “Hitting is not okay.” It’s amazing how difficult it is to be specific, especially when big feelings are swelling up in you too! But it really goes so, so far in teaching your child.

Consistent- Consistency teaches children what to expect and what is expected of them. It works on so many levels, from simple family rules to discipline to schedules. Think about this: Imagine you wake up each morning and you don’t know when breakfast will be or how you will get it. Wouldn’t you have a bit of panic, maybe start to take things into your own hands? I definitely would because I wake up hangry with a capital H.

Find phrases that work in your family that can be repeated in various situations. As Chicka Chicka is getting older and going to things like preschool and swim lessons and primary classes at church, we have found 3 rules that apply to all of them: Listen to teacher, try hard, and have fun! We repeat them before I drop her off, and sometimes talk about them on the way to whatever activity. This reinforces my expectations of her, and in turn, gives her a schema for how to behave.

Calm- I definitely struggle with calm. I want to be a calm person, I really do. But more often than I like to admit, I lose my cool on the 4th potty training accident of the day or the 7th time Boom Boom pulls ALL the books off the bookshelf. And I usually feel terrible instantly. My point? Sometimes we as the adult have to step away from the situation and regain control before we can appropriately handle the madess.

Once you are calm, get on the child’s eye level. I always imagine myself as Miss Trunchbull towering over her pupils when I’m yelling. As much as I don’t want to admit it, that’s probably how it looks to very small children. So getting on their eye level goes a long way towards removing the flight-or-fight response we have when agitated.

Speak in a quiet but firm voice. I try to channel Professor McGonagall (sorry I’m not sorry I’m a total Potterhead). You can command your child’s attention much better by speaking clearly and quietly as opposed to incoherent angry rants.

The most important thing with the CCCs is to keep with it! I know it’s hard to be consistent if you haven’t been in the past, but seeing small positive changes in your child is so encouraging!

P is for Rocks

P is for Rocks final copy

Tonight, Boom Boom and I went walking around our neighborhood. He had some definite wiggles and grumpies and that means we go outside if at all possible. We found (of course) the ONE house that has some pebbled rocks right next to the sidewalk. And Boom Boom plunked himself down and played with them. When I tried to move on, he wriggled out of my arms and just marched himself right back to the Rock House. As in, he walked a block and a half. My kid has a better sense of direction than I will ever have. What is it about rocks that all kids love? I’m not sure- but I’m fairly certain it has something to do with the fact that they are almost always dirty. Kids and dirt go together like…kids and dirt.

Anyway, it got me thinking about a behavior often seen in children with disabilities, especially autism: perseveration. That’s the fancy term for when a child obsesses over something; it can be a motion or an item, and can be caused by several things or for no reason at all. This isn’t typical child obsession; it is usually a repetitive motion (like opening and closing a door), or talking about a subject for an inappropriately long amount of time. Depending on the severity of the perseveration (try saying that 3 times fast!), this can greatly hinder social interactions or the ability to process big feelings.

So how do you work through perseverations with young children? For this, we have to dig into the toolbox and try to stretch the boundaries of that perseveration. First, try distraction. The distraction has to be a serious gamechanger, like a favorite game or toy. Try to include physical space between the distraction and the perseveration. For example, if the child is turning the light switch on and off, put Mr. Greatest Toy Ever in the middle of the room so the child has to leave the light switch.

If distraction doesn’t work, the next thing I pull out of my toolbox is my CCCs. For me, these stand for Clear, Consistent, and Calm. See HERE for more information on this. I get down on the child’s level, and make sure I have the child’s (somewhat) attention. For me, this means they are making eye contact, with the behavior paused. I use a quiet but firm voice, and tell them it is not okay to be doing this. It is crucial that you find a phrase that is used in several disciplinary situations. In my family, we say “___________ is not okay.” This lets the child know exactly what is not okay, and they know mom (or teacher) means business. As parents, it is SO easy to try to explain ourselves, to get too wordy in an attempt to get our point across. But kids of all abilities respond much better to simple, black-and-white communication.

From here, I like to move into the Cha-cha-cha. It means you give the child a chance, a choice, and then a cheer! In this case, I would first give the child a chance to express any feelings they may be having. Perseverations can be triggered by overstimulation, so it is important to work through those feelings in a positive way (instead of the perseveration). Then, you give the child a choice.

Now, repeat after me: Do not make the perseveration a choice! The choice may be between a new toy or a new activity, a new game or a new book, etc. The choices need to physically and emotionally move the child away from the perseveration. Once your child makes a choice, go with it! Give them a cheer (see here for my thoughts on positive reinforcement) and move forward with your day. You can also treat yourself to a Dr. Pepper because, well, good job to you too!

So in conclusion, I have a feeling that rocks will be a big part of my life for the next few years. And for those struggling with perseverations, they will most likely be a part of life, though they may transform over the years. I hope that this post gives you some positive strategies to work through a difficult and tricky situation.