Telling our children to “say” words – does it work?

Too often, I see caregivers try to help their children learn new words by telling them to “say” a word. We hear things like “Say BUS”, “Say MILK” or even “Say MOMMY”. However, if telling children to “say” words worked, I would not be here teaching families how to help their children become better communicators!

Building a child’s vocabulary is a process, and requires many steps. A child first has to live the experience of a specific word (i.e. eat an “ice cream” cone as their caregiver talks about the “ice cream” and repeats that word over and over again). Once they’ve experienced eating ice cream a few times, and that caregivers have labelled it as “ice cream” consistently during these times, they can begin to understand what ice cream means (think about it: how many of us rely on “whispering” a word or spelling it out because we just know that our kids will understand that we suggested ice cream as an adult snack once the kids are asleep??). Finally, once children understand what a word means, and have been provided with many verbal models of that word, they will be able to attempt using that word on their own when we, as caregivers, provide them with opportunities to do so.

Here is a Hanen article to help guide you through helping your child learn to use new words without telling them to “say” it! Enjoy the article (and your ice cream!) 😊

Christine Demers,
Speech-Language Pathologist, reg. CASLPO

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