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SPEAKING UP — 10 ways we can help our Children Express Themselves

Updated: Jul 14, 2018


“Encouraging language in our children requires being in a different state of mind.”


But what does “being in a different state of mind” really mean?

For me, it means “clicking into” a mental space of increased self-awarenessand noticing when I could make a comment, add a descriptive or a thought that could stimulate or expand language or thinking and then “using my words”.

This doesn’t mean commenting on everything, correcting, or speaking in a way that could sound like a criticisms. It means bringing direct attention to language in a natural way in daily life. With practice, this can even become automatic and occur with barely a thought.

Following is a sampling of natural ways to encourage language in our children.

They need not be practiced 24/7 or all at once. Practicing one or two at a time will do. Once you have made those a habit, move on gradually to the others.

Specific times like bath time or grocery shopping or reading a book. Go with your instincts. A myriad of opportunities for practice exist every day.

The examples are for young children but can be easily adapted and expanded for our older children.

Some we already know and do. Others we may have simply forgotten. All of them have the potential of stimulating growth, communication, connection and academic and social success as well as language. *

Some may even stimulate delightful comments from our children and an enjoyable state of being for us.

If you want an idea of what it could look like click  here. 


Our children copy everything we say and do — and even everything we don’t say and do but believe and feel. This means modeling language is a great way to stimulate language without correcting. We may need to simplifying language, put into words what we think the child wants to say but can’t or not express  accurately. Speaking slower and looking at the child also helps.

  • “Show me what you want…. Oh, you want more juice.”

  • “Here comes the train… push it back…now my turn…here it comes…oh, it’s in the tunnel…bye, bye train.”


Expanding language could be considered the second part of modeling, remembering to pause so our children have time to respond on their own.

  • “You want the juice,…the apple juice….Mmmm… It’s cold….Yummy.”

  • “Oh-oh… the train fell off the track…. Let’s put it back…. You put on the engine….I’ll put on the caboose….Time to go….Push….Through the tunnel…There it is… it came out.”


This can be a little tricky. Our children need words and information before they can answer questions. If they don’t have enough words (even if they seem to understand everything we say) asking questions can feel like pressure, and they may even speak less. Providing a choice is often helpful, or we can ask a question, wait a couple of seconds for a response, then answer it ourselves. We can also imbed the answer in the question.

  • “Do you want apple juice or orange juice?…”

  • “Do you want to put on the engine?…”


We all know story telling promotes connection with another, but it is also a wonderful way to stimulate language.

  • “This train set belonged to my son when he was little. Then I gave it to your older brother. Now we get to play with it.”

  • “Baby bunny doesn’t want to go to bed. He/she must first say good night to special things in his/her room. Then he goes to bed and sleeps all night long.”


Wondering aloud can be a lovely way to stimulate language and thought. It can also be revelatory.

  • “I wonder if we have anymore apple juice or if it’s all gone. Hmmm…could Mommy have put it behind the milk… Come help me look…. Oh, there it is.”

  • “I wonder where the train is going?… Maybe to Grandma’s house? Or maybe all the way to Oregon? What if it has only passenger cars or only boxcars?… What could that mean?”

6.  SHOP

Shopping with our children can be very helpful, language-wise. For example, understanding categories and associations is helpful in our daily lives. We wouldn’t want to put the ice cream in the pantry when it belongs in the freezer.

  • “Let’s go to produce section first. Do you want to get the fruit or vegetables first?… OK, help me pick out which type of oranges we want.”

  • “Those are the adult toothbrushes. They’re too big and not as much fun as yours…. Oh, look at all these cartoon characters. You can select the one you want.”

7.  COOK

Cooking with children may take patience and giving up our OCD but it stimulates a number of skills necessary for language development.

  • “What would happen if we heated the butter before we had the batter made?”

  • “Let me see, do we have all the ingredients: flour, sugar, vanilla, baking soda… Hmm, I know we forgot something… oh, yes… the oil. (Playing dumb and making mistakes can be very helpful.)


Understanding, remembering, and following directions is mandatory for language acquisition as well as academic and social learning. We may need to start with one direction then build from there as our children become more proficient at remembering. Again, it is helpful to speak slowly and look at the child while doing this.

  • “I’ll put out the plates, but I would like you to put out the silverware—the knifes, forks, and spoons. How many do we need?”

  • “Before we can play in the snow, you need your hat, mittens, scarf, and boots.” (If they can’t remember, you can ask them to repeat back what you said, picture in their heads what you are asking, or break it into smaller parts, getting hats and mittens first, then scarf and boots.)


Talking our thoughts can help our children learn to process information, plan, sequence and problem solve – all skills that are necessary for successful communication. It can also help our children transition.

  • “I  want to go to the pool right now, too.  But I’m thinking we first need to get our towels, the water toys, and snacks.  Maybe you could gather up the toys while I get the snacks…”

  • “I can’t look at your picture now. My hands are sticky with dough but after I pat the dough into the pan and wash my hands, I’ll be over….”


My students are typically not pleased when I stop reading and make a comment, ask a question, or define a word. They would rather I plough through the story, but if I did, they could miss a lot. Sometimes I make mistakes on purpose.

  • “I wonder where the little mouse is going…. Do you have an idea?… We’re just guessing…. I’m guessing he’s going to the rabbit’s house… You think he is going to the squirrel’s house…. You were right.”

  • The bunny is so courageous… He stands up for his friend even when he is scared.

Enjoy discovering your own natural ways of encouraging your children’s language.

*Some of the language building blocks these suggestions stimulate are: vocabulary, grammar, sequencing, comprehension, memory, understanding and expression, conversational skills, following directions, predicting, problem solving, inferencing, and taking perspective, among others–all necessary for academic and social communication.

  “How we communicate affects our joy of being alive.” – Linda

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