Requesting is a great skill to encourage kids to talk more. Requesting is when a child asks for something. Most often it works when the child initiates the request, unlike when you want them to want something.
- Motivation/food: I am not above bribery. Food is a great motivator! Especially if your child has a favorite snack that has a lot of pieces. *Disclaimer: Please do not withhold basic needs like meals or drinks in order to accomplish this. This should be done with small snacks or treats.*
- A. Try using food that has a set number to it, like a bag of fruit snacks/pretzels/mini M&Ms, and give your child a couple pieces then wait for him to react to not getting the rest. Kids seem to inherently know how many pieces are in a bag and when you only give them a few they will want the rest.
- B. This is when you pretend as if you don’t know what they want and ask “what do you want?“ This allows your child the opportunity to request. You can give a model by saying and/or signing certain words, like “more” or “please.” Give a model, with about 5-10 second pause in between to allow time to process what’s happening and expected. If the child doesn’t respond, give another model and processing time.
- C. If he still looks at you blankly, take his hands to sign ‘more’ or touch his lips together to sound ‘mmm’ (or “puh” for ‘please’). Then praise him like he did it all on his own and give him a couple more pieces of the snack. Do this until the bag is empty. Your child is learning what is expected of him—he has to say or sign his request in order to get what he wants.
- D. If the child can already produce “more/please,” move onto two or three word phrases, such as “more please” or “I want more.”
- Consistency: The clincher to this is consistency!!! It is very important for you and your loved ones to be on the same page. This promotes an environment where your child will learn that this (using language to request) is the way it will be from here on out. Stay strong and follow the steps above!! If you are consistent, you will see a reduction in emotional breakdowns or tantrums because now your child is given the tools he needs to communicate his wants/needs effectively.
- Accept any effort and attempts to communicate—this will include making sounds, signing, or verbalizing. Even if the sound or sign isn’t spot on, if your child is making a communication attempt, praise him and give him the desired object. Once you feel he is able to use it independently, give him less models and prompts, but instead ask “What do you want?” as the cue. This will allow him to feel more independent with his use of requests.
- Take a break. However, if your child continues to refuse to participate in requesting even after you’ve given the initial 2 models (like asking ‘please’ for a new snack) then walk away. You are not the one who wants the snack and I’ll bet you have other things you need to get done, and standing around in a battle of wills is not on the top of the list. Walking away will prove you are serious about him using language to request. If he comes back to you, give him another model of how to say “please” or whatever the request may be. If he continues to refuse, do not anticipate his needs and give in. Be consistent.
- Other Applications: Once they have mastered requesting food, move on to other highly prized items or experiences like watching a video on YouTube, getting tickled, or going down the slide.
Samantha Stone, SLP