More Than Words: Building Social Communication Skills

Does your child have difficulty playing with other children? Do they prefer to play alone or demonstrate challenges in making friends? This blog will discuss what pragmatic (social) communication is, review the signs of a pragmatic language delay or disorder, and provide strategies for encouraging pragmatic language development in your child.

What is pragmatic language and why is it important?

Pragmatic language or social communication refers to the appropriate use of language in social situations. It is not only what we say, but also how we say it. This includes being able to understand and use nonverbal cues such as body language and facial expressions. Pragmatic language is comprised of various important skills for successful communication, including eye contact, turn-taking, initiating and maintaining conversation, and understanding and using humor, among others. Children may have difficulty with one or more of these skills. It is important to support the development of your child’s pragmatic language skills so that they can learn to express themselves, understand others, and build relationships with family and peers.

Signs of a pragmatic language delay or disorder:

  • Preferring to play alone for an extended period of time
  • Limited eye contact while talking and/or playing
  • Difficulty taking turns
  • Limited initiation of conversation or play
  • Difficulty maintaining a topic of conversation
  • Difficulty participating in pretend play activities
  • Difficulty understanding or expressing emotions
  • Difficulty understanding another’s point of view
  • Difficulty interpreting tone of voice or body language
  • Difficulty making inferences
  • Difficulty using appropriate greetings
  • Difficulty adapting language to different listeners (i.e. talking to a friend the same way as to an adult)
  • Difficulty adapting language based on environment (i.e. talking the same way on the playground as in the classroom)
  • Not providing background information when appropriate

Strategies for building pragmatic language skills:

  • Pretend play:Engage in pretend play activities with your child, such as playing house, pretending to bake cookies, or pretending to be a veterinarian. Pretend play facilitates growth in cooperative back and forth play, ability to act out social situations, and ability to understand another’s perspective.
  • Turn-taking games:Turn-taking is a fundamental skill of communication as it teaches the basic back-and-forth exchange of a conversation. Through turn-taking games children learn to wait when it is someone else’s turn and they learn how to identify when it is their turn. Turn-taking games could be as simple as rolling a ball back and forth or taking turns blowing bubbles. You could also play simple turn-taking board games with your child to support development of this skill.
  • Story time:When reading a book with your child, try to make it interactive. Based on their age and language skills you could ask them to describe the pictures and what they see. For older children you can ask questions such as, “How do you think he feels?” or “What do you think she will do?” Prompting your child to answer these types of questions will help your child to make inferences, learn to understand another person’s perspective, and have a better understanding of emotions.
  • Be a good role model: You are your child’s best teacher. Model appropriate social communication skills such as making appropriate eye contact, using appropriate greetings, asking on-topic follow up questions, etc. Help your child to use these social communication skills when talking to family, teachers, and peers.
  • Facilitating peer interactions:Children need practice in order to learn to share, take turns, and play cooperatively with others. Setting up play-dates that you can be present for is a great way to facilitate peer interactions and relationships. You can encourage your child to communicate with their peer by prompting them to initiate conversation and play ideas. In addition you can encourage them to maintain play and communication with their peer by prompting them to ask on topic questions and make on topic comments.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s pragmatic language skills, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Claire Kakenmaster, MS, CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist

Photo Credit: Image by HaiRobe on Pixabay

What’s in Your House: DIY Activities for Language Development!

Due to all that’s available online and in stores, many parents feel inclined to buy the newest toys on the shelf to support their children’s development. Unfortunately, as a result, parents can overlook the valuable materials in their own homes! Tons of common household items can be converted into toys or activities that stimulate your child’s creativity, expand his or her play ideas, and facilitate language growth and development. Not to mention encouraging your child to play with common household items can reduce clutter, cut down costs, and help your child get creative with what they have! Here are some common household items that function as agents for language use during play. You might be surprised by all you can do with what you have!

Toilet Paper Rolls

Save your empty toilet paper rolls! Encourage vocal play by turning your empty toilet paper rolls into microphones! Taking turns saying sounds and words into your microphone helps to build your child’s imitation skills. You can also tape two rolls together to make a set of binoculars! Use your binoculars to target object naming and object identification, through fun games like I-Spy and hide-and-seek.

Pots, Pans, and Spoons

Channel your child’s inner musician by playing with pots and pans! You can sing familiar songs or model strings of single words or sounds, such as “tap tap tap” or “bang bang bang,” as you play with your culinary instruments. By imitating the things you say and do, your child is practicing a critical step in learning reciprocal communication.

Laundry Basket

Laundry baskets (or any other open container) can easily be transformed into cars, trains, boats, or planes with a little imagination. As your child drives the makeshift vehicle, model target phrases and environmental sounds, such as “drive,” “go car,” “choo choo,” “vroom,” “beep beep,” etc. After taking your laundry basket for a spin, try using it as a basketball hoop and ask your child to throw different objects inside. This is a great way to target object labels and following single-step directions within a fun routine!

Painter’s Tape

Tape a line on the floor to serve as a road or balance beam. To target verbal requests, rip bits of tape off at a time to verbal requests such as, “more road” or “tape on” or “need tape.” You can also take turns hopping, crawling, or tiptoeing on the tape to practice imitation of gross motor actions! Imitating gross motor actions is a great precursor to imitating gestures, sounds, and words!

Blanket

Aside from using blankets for pretend play (i.e., putting a baby doll to sleep), you can use blankets for a variety of social games. Peek-a-boo is a great game to target joint attention and verbal turn taking. After you lift the blanket up, say the phrase, “Peek-a….” and wait for your child to fill in, “Boo!” before lowering the blanket. This helps build anticipation and establishes a cause-effect relationship between your child’s words and your actions. Other social games include blanket swing, blanket train or magic carpet, and silly sneezes (i.e. Lifting the blanket and saying, “Ah, ah, choo!” as you lower it).

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s responses to noise, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Jill Teitelbaum, MS, CF-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist

Photo Credit: Michal Bar Haim on Unsplash.com

How to Expand Your Child’s Play!

Play is highly correlated to your child’s cognitive and speech and language development and is a great way to bond with your little one! Many parents are challenged by how to play with their little one and get involved in their world. Not only is learning to play important, but equally important is the expansion of your little one’s play.

Some toddlers get “stuck” in wanting to play with a toy in only one or two ways. Toddlers who play with a toy in a limited number of ways are showing us that they do not quite understand the function or multiple functions of a toy. Take for example a child who only moves a car back and forth on a table. This little one is showing us they understand that the car can move, but they are not yet aware of all the other things we can do with that same car. We can drive the car up the couch, it can crash or fall, the car can get gas or a car wash, pick up pretend toys and animals, or take us to different places like the grocery store or to see friends and family.

Why Do We Want to Expand Play?

Expanded play shows us your little one’s expanded understanding of the world. Play allows adults to label and model actions that your child is completing, in turn, helping your child’s speech and language skills develop.

The higher levels of play your little one demonstrates, the more they understand their world and the more language they have. If a child is playing with an object in just one way, there is a limited amount of words we can use to talk about that play interaction. For example: Your little one hands you a ball. You could say: “Ball!” “Look, ball.” “Red ball.” “Big ball.” If your child throws a ball to you, you can add “Throw ball.” “Bounce!” “Go ball!” “My turn!” “Your turn” and so much more. By expanding from showing to playing, there are SO MANY more words we can use to support your little one’s vocabulary development!

Tips for Expanding Play:

  1. Get on your child’s level:Sit on the floor or at the table together so you are physically at the same level as your child. Being on the same level also increases your eye contact and is easier to share attention with your child.
  2. Follow their lead:If your kiddo is playing with a car, you play with a car too! Try finding another of the same toy so you each have a toy and you don’t have to take turns.
  3. Add ONE play idea at a time:Sometimes we get a little over-zealous showing our kids 50 different ways to do something—it can be overwhelming. Remember expanding play is a gradual process and each child learns at their own pace. Your little one might need you to show something once or they might need some more help to copy your play—that is okay. Start by adding ONE step. Your child shows you a ball. You roll the ball back to them. Once your child is imitating one action, show them something new (try bouncing the ball)!
  4. Keep your language simple: We want to say one word above what our child is saying. If your little one says, “Ball” add an action word to describe how you are playing: “Ball go!” “Bounce ball.” etc. If your little one isn’t saying anything yet, just label the object or the action, or even just make a silly sound (slurping if you’re playing with a pretend cup)!
  5. Don’t force it:If your little one is getting frustrated that you are changing their play, show them one more time and move on. We want to keep play fun, exciting, and enjoyable for both of you! If your little one abandons an activity, move with them or take a short break and join them later to play again.

For more info on play and play milestones, check out some of PlayWorks’ previous blog posts:

Play in speech and language therapy: http://playworkschicago.com/toddlers-speech-therapist-playing-child/

Toy guide for babies through toddlers: http://playworkschicago.com/toy-guide-babies-toddlers/

Jessie Delos Reyes, MA, CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist

Image: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/news/nr/want-to-boost-your-toddlers-development-put-a-toy-chicken-on-your-head-1.485117

Using Mr. Potato Head to Practice Speech and Language Skills

Mr. Potato head is a versatile toy that can be used to target many speech and language skills.

The following are concepts that can be targeted while playing with your child:

  1. Identifying body parts: Ask your child to find Mr. Potato Head’s eyes or his nose. If they have trouble doing this you can narrow down their options by giving them a choice of two. You can then ask them to find their own eyes, nose, etc.
  2. Requesting more: Before handing your child another piece, have them request “more” at their current level (i.e. eye contact, pointing, signing, or verbally.)
  3. Following directions: Practice following directions by asking your child to hand you Mr. Potato’s hat, hands, etc. Make sure that they know which part you are referring to so that they do not have increased difficulty following the direction. You can also have them perform an action before receiving a new piece. For example, ask your child to clap their hands and reward them by giving them a new piece.
  4. Teaching Action words: Teach action words through Mr. Potato Head such as running, jumping, sleeping, eating, waving, etc. You can model and label the action for your child and then have them practice.
  5. Pretend play: Perform routines with Mr. Potato Head such as eating breakfast, taking a bath, or getting ready for bed.
  6. Early location concepts: You can hide pieces around the room and ask your child to find the piece on the table, in the shoe, or under the chair. If they are not at this level yet you can model for them (i.e. “look! His nose is on the chair”.)

Katie Dabkowski M.S., CF-SLP