When a child speaks their first words, it’s an amazing thing to witness! Communication is what connects us all to each other. But sometimes children need a little extra help gaining initial speech and language skills.

Fortunately, there are very easy techniques you can begin implementing today to help promote communication. One of these is by simply offering your child choices.  

Offering choices will help your child speak their first words. When I personally implement this strategy into treatment sessions, parents are amazed at what their child can communicate! Many times parents will say, “I had no idea they could do that!”

This article will discuss ways to offer your child choices in everyday situations in order to help them express themself more clearly!

Why Do Choices Work?

When it comes to the early days of language development, offering choices is such an effective strategy because it is a structured context for communication.

Take a second and think about the types of questions you ask your child during the day, such as “What do you want to eat?”, “What book would you like to read?” and the famous question parents usually ask their early communicator, “What do you want?”

While these types of questions may seem very simple to us, they are actually open ended questions. Your child may not yet have the expressive vocabulary to independently provide answers. That’s why offering choices is so powerful - it makes figuring out what a new-talker needs become less of a guessing game.

Once you begin to implement this strategy at home, the puzzle pieces of communication begin to fit together!

How to Offer Choices

Let’s review some examples of how you can offer choices to your child at home.

  1. Ask your child a simple question during play such as, “What toy would you like?”
  2. After you ask the question, present two options to your child to review, such as a toy bus and a puzzle.
  3. Gesture to the bus and say “Bus,” then gesture to the puzzle and say, “Or puzzle?”
  4. Wait expectantly and observe how your child tries to communicate. It may be through gestures, like pointing to the desired toy, or they might use a verbalization to signal which item they prefer.

When we keep communication requests simple and structured, children are more likely to successfully express their thoughts and ideas.

Your Child’s Response: Gestures Vs. Verbalizations

Many children will use gestures before making consistent verbalizations. This is very normal in the progression of language development. Gestures like pointing typically develop before word usage.

If your child does not usually verbalize or imitate many words, then expect gestures from your child right now. That’s okay - pointing is absolutely communication! Make sure to still praise your child in response to their request. This feeling of achievement is what will encourage your child to communicate more and begin attempting verbalizations.

Once your child is consistently using gestures when provided with two choices, it’s a good time to start focusing on their verbalizations. When you offer choices, emphasize each word a couple of times. If your child points to an item (the toy bus, for example) model it for them and prompt your child to imitate. You can say, “Bus! You want the bus! You say it - Bus!” Afterwards, wait for your child’s response.

Working One Level Above Your Child

This is another tip I like to give parents when attempting verbalizations: if your child is not attempting an imitation even after your models, give your child something more simple to imitate, such as the first sound of the word. In this example, prompt your child to imitate the /b/ sound as a simple approximation for “bus.”

As always, children respond to positivity. Be sure to get very excited and cheer your child on each time they verbalize, even if their verbalization is only part of the word. Children’s coordination and motor-planning for speech can take some time to develop. Over time, your child’s productions will begin to sound more like true words.

If your early communicator is already imitating words right and left, that’s wonderful! Now, see if they’ll continue imitating words after you verbally present two choices (without having to visually show them each option).

Another way to increase the challenge is to prompt them to use two-word phrases, such as, “Bus please!” or “More bus!”

How Often To Practice

The more you practice at home, the better! By frequently offering choices, your child will quickly gain confidence in their communication skills. And once you set your child up for success, it’ll really get language development rolling. Your child will soon begin to use gestures and verbalizations on their own without any prompting.

This is why it is very important to practice, practice, practice! Give your child at least 30-40 opportunities to make choices throughout their day. That may seem like a lot, but I promise you can do it! You can easily offer choices in little, everyday situations, such as asking what snack your child would like, what drink they prefer, or even what shoes they would like to wear that day!

Easy Online Lessons for Continued Learning

For more information on using choices to encourage multi-word utterances, be sure to check out this lesson on Expressable Academy.

Expressable Academy is our online bank of free lessons that parents can access and implement at home with their children. Simply navigate to the left-hand column to view all of the topics and lessons available. I would suggest checking out word imitation and communication temptations for some more lessons related to today’s article.