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The power of giving choices

Choices:  As adults, we have many choices to make each day:  Get up when the alarm goes off or hit snooze? Wear the striped shirt or the solid shirt? Eat a doughnut or a smoothie for breakfast?  Our entire lives are based off of making choices.  Children also thrive off of making choices.  Making choices helps to aid in communication as well.

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During the last few weeks, our blog posts have focused on giving wait time during communication and withholding/giving a little bit of something at a time.  Today we introduce the third technique in our series:  giving choices.  

We often see parents offer one item to the child:  "Do you want a granola bar?" not wait for the child to gesture or say yes or no then immediately give the child the granola bar.  Slowing down and having the child make a choice is imperative for attention, learning and overall communication. 

When a child is offered two items ("Do you want the granola bar or the banana?") while the items are in plain view, many concepts are being learned by your child.  First, they are able to link the words you are using to an item which teaches them vocabulary.  The wait time between being offered the items then making choice, holds their attention for a small amount of time teaching the concept of waiting for items (which comes in handy later in life and all across life).  Then if the child is able to vocalize, he or she can practice using speech to make a choice (even if it is not perfect and they're only able to say 'ba' for banana-it's still an attempt at speech).  If they cannot speak or vocalize yet, pointing to the preferred item or signing for it are great ways to continue the communication.

Once the child makes their choice, saying it over again is a great way to continue to expose the child to a new vocabulary word or concept.  "Do you want a banana?  Yum, bananas are so yummy.  They are sweet and yellow."  This expansion further defines what a banana is and is not to a child and gives them more words to associate with a banana and further expand their vocabulary.

The Hanen Program (a program that trains speech therapists and parents how to take advantage of everyday situations to build a child's communication), places the following two items in 'taking a child's lead':

1.  Giving just a little bit.....then waiting

2.   Giving choices....then waiting

Waiting is a huge deal in both of these circumstances.  Your child has to have time to process that you may be only giving them a little bit so they have to find the sign or words to ask for more of whatever the item is and when you give a choice, your child has to process that there are two or three items, what those items are and the names of those items.

Not only does giving choices aid in communicating with your child, it can relieve some of the stress of daily parenting and make the child think they in control/independent while the parent still maintains control of the situation.  This video below is a quick one minute explanation of using choices in parenting.

The next time you're in a situation with your child asking open ended questions and not getting anywhere, use choices!  The benefits are astounding:  Your child will be communicating with you and it will reduce your stress as a parent!