As parents, we often want to get as MUCH language out of our kids as possible. Asking lots of questions seems like a natural way to get them to talk, right? Actually, asking lots of questions may not be the best way to elicit language from your child.
Think about a time where you were required to answer many questions, maybe an interview. Were you comfortable in the situation? What about during an exam? How did it feel when you weren’t quite sure of the answer? Are those situations that you enjoy and seek out? Do you want to stay in an interview or an exam for a long time?
Most people find it uncomfortable to be quizzed. You may feel pressure to respond “correctly” and may be anxious about what to say or what question will be asked next.
Now think about a time where you felt completely comfortable in a conversation. Maybe you were chatting with your best friend. What made that conversation so comfortable? Were speaking turns balanced? Was there a nice mix of questions and comments?
Let’s apply this to interactions with your child. Just as WE find it uncomfortable to be asked many questions (and particular “testing” questions), THEY do too!
So what should we do? Grandview Kids Speech Language Pathologist Alishia Chamney says we should take the pressure off and aim for a balanced conversation.
The first step is to NOTICE what your interaction style is. Do you ask lots of questions? Notice the ratio of questions to comments. Think about how many and what type of questions you are using. You might find that you’re using lots of “testing” questions (e.g. “What’s this?”, “What does the cow say?”, “Is this a truck?”, “Is he jumping?”). These might be WH-questions (like who, what, where) or yes/no questions (e.g. “Is that a cow?”).
Now that you’re aware of your question-asking tendencies, it’s time to reduce the number of questions. The easiest way to do that is to change questions into comments. Instead of asking multiple questions, provide comments based on what the child is doing, seeing, and experiencing. This tells the child that you are truly interested in what they are doing. All those comments also provide the opportunity for your child to hear language that they might want to use themselves when the pressure is off.
Here are some examples of how to change a question into a comment:
“What’s that?” → “You have a truck” or “I see a truck!”
“What does a cow say?” → “Mooooooo says the cow.”
“Is this a truck?” → “Look I have a blue truck.”
“Is he jumping?” → “He is jumping!” or “He is jumping so high!”
“Is that a cow?” → “Here is a cow.”
Should you avoid questions altogether? No – BUT we want a balanced conversation. Ask questions when you need to know an answer. Typically these will be about your child’s preference so you don’t know the answer already (e.g. “Do you want some more bubbles?”, “Are you hungry?”, “Do you want the blue cup or the red cup?”). Balance the number of questions you ask with the number of comments you make – and keep in mind that questions are “heavier” so you need more comments to balance out a question!
Turning questions into comments will help support your child’s language development. Children are more likely to stay, play, and learn with you when they are having fun and the pressure is off. Have fun!
Alishia, Speech-Language Pathologist