Withholding and Giving Just a Little Bit-2 Tips to Increase Expressive Language


Many parents ask us what they can do to help their children start talking more consistently.  We will be discussing some of our favorite strategies over the next several weeks which should give you the tools and resources to execute them with your own children .  Last week, Rebecca explained the importance of giving your child plenty of wait time.  Today we are going to discuss two of my favorite and easiest to implement expressive language strategies: withholding and giving just a little bit.


Withholding gets a bad rap because many people imagine a parent holding something over their child’s head and forcing them to ask before getting it.  If they don’t ask, they don’t get it. This usually results in a toddler meltdown and a power struggle of sorts.  While you can certainly do it that way, I would like to offer my advice on how to use withholding in a more gentle and effective way.  First, instead of thinking of this strategy as keep away until they request verbally, think of it as only a temporary withholding.  We do not want our children to think of language negatively or as a punishment, but rather as a way to effectively communicate their wants and needs.  If we get into a power struggle they can develop negative feelings about speech and language.  When we withhold things from children, we are simply giving them the chance to request.  Basically, this is another form of waiting and opens up a communication opportunity that wasn't previously there. 

For example, let’s say your child points to an apple on the counter and grunts.  You know they want the apple, but instead of just handing it to them, you ask them what they want.  If they don’t respond, you can point to various things on the counter and ask them if that is what they want.  If they are unable to respond verbally, then get the apple and say, “Do you want the apple?”  They will probably respond with a head nod or reach enthusiastically towards it.  Do not hand it to them right away.  Instead, model the word “apple” and wait.  Give them plenty of wait time to respond or imitate.  They may start to get upset and whine or scream for it.  If they start to become upset, hand them the apple and model the word again, “apple”.  They may not attempt the word at all, and that’s okay because you gave them the opportunity to say the word and you modeled it various times.  They are still learning and taking in the language regardless if they are imitating you verbally.  You are setting the stage for them to imitate you next time.  One of the easiest ways to set up withholding without a power struggle is to put items within sight, but out of reach.  If they have a sippy cup, put it up on the counter where they can see it, but can’t reach it themselves.  If they have a favorite toy or book, put it up on a dresser or shelf.  This will create consistent communication opportunities. They will have to request and get your attention to get the item.  Make sure to briefly withhold giving it to them while modeling the word and giving them plenty of wait time to respond or imitate you. 


The next tip, and one of the most effective in my opinion, is to give just a little bit at a time.  You can use this with toys, food, and activities.  As parents, we often give our kids an entire bowl of goldfish or all the puzzle pieces at once to keep them happy.  This is great for happy kids, but not so great for communication.  If you give them an entire bowl of goldfish, they have no opportunities to ask for more.  If you give them all the pieces to a puzzle, they have no need to ask for the others.  This is why it is important to piecemeal items out to your kids.  Each time they need more, they have another opportunity to communicate that to you.  Give just a few goldfish and wait for them to request more.  If they start shaking their bowl at you or whining, you can model the word “more” and give them the opportunity to imitate you.  Give them a few more goldfish and repeat the process  They may not imitate you or request at first, but after many models and opportunities, they will be more likely to request.  I like to use the puzzle example, because it’s an easy way to stimulate speech and language skills while playing with your child.  Let's say you have a farm animal puzzle.  Take all the pieces and give them to our child one at a time.  You can also offer them choices, “Do you want the pig or the cow?” Wait for them to respond with a verbal response or point.  If they point, you can use withholding for a bit to model the word and wait for a response. You could also model animal sounds if that would be easier for your child to imitate.  Do this with each puzzle piece.  Do you see how giving each piece one at a time opens up many communication opportunities?  Watch the video below and see how I only give one piece of the puzzle at a time in order to prompt more verbal language from my son.  We would have missed the opportunity for him to label the animals, make animal sounds, request more and make choices if I would have let him have all the pieces to himself. 


The best thing you can do as a caregiver to facilitate speech and language skills in your child is give them opportunities to communicate with you. Our goal in the next couple weeks is to give you tips that increase the amount of communication opportunities your child has each day.  Plenty of wait time, withholding, and giving just a little bit at a time all provide more opportunities for your child to communicate with you.  Stay tuned for our next installment on the importance of giving choices and for our Facebook Live Q/A on Feb 22nd at 8pm.  Make sure your like and follow our page for updates during the week. Join us live to ask us any questions that you may have and pick our brains about speech and language development.