Your child’s pronoun usage can be very difficult to understand and even more difficult to teach! Many parents – and therapists alike– struggle teaching this concept to their little ones. First, you need to have a basic understanding of when each pronoun should be acquired. This way, you’ll know what is appropriate to teach and what isn’t! The research varies slightly with regard to pronoun acquisition; however, all research agrees that I and it are the first to emerge, followed by you.
Approximate Age of Acquisition:
12-26 months – I, it
27-30 months – me, my, mine, you
31-34 months – your, she, he, yours, we
35-40 months – they, us, her, his, them, her
41-46 months – its, our, him, myself, yourself, ours, their, theirs
47+ months – herself, himself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves
Sources: Adapted from Haas & Owens (1985); Huxley (1970); Morehead & Ingram (1973); Waterman & Schatz (1982); and Wells (1985).
Now for the tricky part – teaching pronouns! Many children with language delays, auditory processing issues and echolalia struggle with correct pronoun use. Yet, parents often don’t understand how to practice the skill at home and facilitate generalization. Pronouns by nature are ABSTRACT, and therefore, difficult to “see” or conceptualize, thus difficult to teach to children.
Here are a few tips and activities for targeting pronouns with your toddler at home:
- Use Gestures – Always pair pronouns with gestures! This provides a great non-verbal cue for the child to understand who you are referring to and what each pronoun represents. Point to yourself for “I” and tap your child’s chest for “you.” When you are modeling what, you want your child to say, take his/her hand and use it to pat their own chest for “I” or “my.”
- Raise your intonation to emphasize the pronoun as you gesture to help the child make the connection
- Modeling – Providing frequent models is important! Often times, parents and therapists simplify language and use proper nouns instead of pronouns. For example, “Mommy is eating” or “Ms. Lisa is going bye-bye.” This strategy is great for babies who are not talking or who are just learning to talk because it improves understanding and attaches meaning to the words. However, once your child is talking, it is important for them to hear you modeling the correct pronouns! For example, “I am eating” and “I am going bye-bye.”
- Don’t worry if you forget! Simply follow-up with an emphasized model: “Mommy is eating. I am hungry.”
- One at a time – Focus on just one pronoun at time. This can be challenging because it is natural to want to use them together. “I have blue and you have green.” Although, it may seem helpful, it can actually be quite confusing for your little one!
- It takes time and maybe a slow process. That is okay!
- Prompt with how the child should say it – Rather than saying, “Do you need me to help you?” prompt your child with a model of what he/she should be saying. So, for example, you would simply model, “Help me.”
- This can be challenging because our tendency is to prompt with phrases such as, “you say” or “tell me,” which may only lead to more confusion and repetition of the wrong pronoun!
- Look for opportunities in everyday play and routines – pronouns are best taught during normal play and interactions. Model, gesture/point and emphasize the pronoun by raising pitch, intonation and volume. Provide lots of opportunities for repetition and practice!
- “Mine” – If your child produces the /m/ sound, mine is a great place to start! Model the word as you hold a toy (or part of a toy). Be sure to keep it light and fun and always give the object right back! It’s important for your toddler to know that you are not there to take their toy. You are simply being playful and having fun (while teaching a pronoun).
- Tip: Do not do this with your child’s favorite toy. They will not like you saying, “mine” and will likely become very upset. If you see that your child is getting frustrated or upset, stop working on it and try again later!
- “Me” – Look at family pictures (printed or on your cell phone) and ask, “Whose that?” Model, “me” while pointing to a picture of yourself and tapping your own chest. Model “me” again and use hand-over-hand assistance to help your child touch his/her own chest.
- Selfies – Children love phones and they especially love taking pictures on phones. Take a few “selfies” with your child for extra engagement, motivation and fun, then use the pictures to model me!
- Choosing items – Lay a few objects out in front of the child and say, “I want banana” or “I want car” as you take the object. Exaggerate “I” as you take the item.
- Snack time – Ask, “Who wants ____?” Help your child touch their own chest while modeling “I do! I do!”
- Actions – Use actions to practice the pronoun “I.” Children love gross-motor and movement activities and this is the perfect opportunity! Pair “I” with simple actions (i.e. I run, I jump, I hop, I sleep, I laugh, I cry, etc.) as you act out the action. For example, “I laugh” and then crack-up laughing or “I cry” and pretend to cry. Have fun and get into it! The more you are enjoying it, the more your child will too.
- Playful commands and help scenarios. Create “you do it” situations where you need to ask your child for their help.
- Roll a toy car under the table and say, “Oh no! Oh no! You get it.”
- Wrap a toy in Play-Doh or putty a say, “Oh no! Stuck! You do! You!”
- Think of the key phrases, “You do,” “You go,” “You get,” “You eat,” etc.
- “My” vs. “Your”
- Practice with clothing, body parts or food. “My pants” and “Your pants” while gesturing.
Resources: Laura Mize, Teach Me to Talk
Kelly Fridholm, M.C.D., CCC-SLP