Life is a series of choices, but this is not always the case for young children. Between making sure the kids are dressed and their shoes are on the right feet, it’s often too easy for the parent to go ahead and pick “the red shirt” and “the peanut butter sandwich” for the sake of time. By giving a child the choice of “red shirt or yellow shirt?” and “turkey or peanut butter sandwich?”, however, we are opening up a world of communicative opportunities and learning moments. For example:
- Teaching “Yes” and “No”: Give your child the choice he or she did NOT choose. Did they choose pretzels as their snack? Oops! You gave them grapes instead. This will encourage them to let you know there was a miscommunication. When they let you know something is wrong, you can ask “Did you want grapes?”, allowing them to say “yes” or “no”. If they respond incorrectly, you can model a correct response by saying, “No, you wanted the pretzels!”
- Increasing vocabulary: Try describing their choices in different terms. For example, instead of saying “pretzels”, say “the salty one”, or “the brown one”. Instead of saying “grapes”, say “the sweet one” or “the purple one”. This aids in mental flexibility (one object having different labels) and generalization (lots of foods are salty, not just pretzels).
- Encouraging initiation of communication: In order to get the preferred item, your child will need to initiate a communication with you! If they don’t, you can encourage them by saying something along the lines of, “You didn’t want grapes, you wanted pretzels!” Do make sure to go back and “right the wrong”, as this can easily take a wrong turn into them learning that grapes are pretzels and pretzels are grapes.
- Communicating to control their environment: We learn how to mediate our environment by saying what is wanted and unwanted. For example, when something goes awry in an infant’s environment, they communicate something isn’t right by crying. As children get older, they must learn how to communicate the same message in an age-appropriate manner.
*This information is provided for informational and educational purposes only and should not be used to replace consultation with your doctor or qualified health professional.