5 Tips for Toddlers- Language for Choices

Do you need good language skills to make responsible  choices? Definitely! Language and thinking skills are so intertwined.  My last post was about why choices are so important. Now, let’s take a look at the language involved.

Toddlers don’t yet have the language skills to really make choices since they are in the here and now, while making choices is about decisions for the future. When we provide toddlers with two simple visual choices, such as graham cracker or cookie, and label the items, we are doing more than just increasing their vocabulary and requesting skills! We are showing them visually that they have choices and giving them the language they need to make that choice! 

Think about their play skills, too- working on learning cause and effect. This is a building block for making responsible choices!

SLP tips for toddler’s choices in therapy:

1. Attention spans are sort, so have lots of activities available.

2. Baskets can really helpful for having similar toys available to grab or put away quickly. Toddlers will use eye gaze first to show their choice when two objects are held up. That is our cue to label the one they want!

3. When eye gaze is established, that is our cue to delay gratification a little and wait for a vocalization to occur. Listen for some variation in vowel sounds to occur between the different toys in your basket, and hopefully some consonant sounds will be emerging, too.

4. For children who are having problems vocalizing, are a little older, or could possibly be on the spectrum, this is the perfect opportunity to start developing a pointing response. Pointing is much easier to prompt than vocalizations for a child who is not naturally starting to do that.

5. Shape a Pointing Response-Hold up two toys to see which one is being looked at. Quickly set down the other toy and scoop that hand under the child’s hand. It is probably already out, trying to grab the toy! 

Use your hand to mold the child’s hand into a pointing gesture while naming the desired object. Be sure to only let the child get the toy after a pointing response, not a grab! While this feels awkward at first, you will soon become adept at prompting a point. Help yourself out a little by holding the usually preferred toy in your non-dominant hand at first so you can get used to the steps using your dominant hand most of the trials.

5 Tips for Teaching Toddlers How to Make Choices- and why you should!
I like this technique for several reasons. First, you are shaping a natural gesture (grabbing) into a communicative behavior (pointing.)

Next, you are pairing the child’s eye gaze with that point, since they are already looking at the item they want. This is so important as prerequisite step for joint attention (the child looking at what you are looking at.) 

Once the child realizes that pointing goes with looking, it opens the door for teaching that your point is telling them to look! You are also starting to teach some of the skills the child will need if he has problems leaning verbal language and has to start by using an alternative communication method. 

Last, and possibly most important, pointing and waiting is such a better social skill than grabbing and taking!

How do you use choices in therapy? If you are still interested in this topic, pop on over to Speech Time Fun this Friday for a summary of my ideas! I'm so grateful for the opportunity to guest post there!

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