A Strategy to Support Speech and Language Development

Many parents ask, what they can do to help their children start talking? One of the best thing you can do as a parent to facilitate speech and language skills in your child is give them opportunities to communicate with you. Withholding increases 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.


When using the strategy of withholding, you wait for your child to request an item with a word or sign before giving it to them. Rather than anticipating your child’s needs, withholding creates more opportunities for your child communicate with you.

When we withhold things from children, we are giving them the chance to request.  This creates a communication opportunity that wasn’t previously there.


You can apply the strategy of withholding to many things that a child wants. Your child may want more goldfish, books, or toys.  Try modeling the word and sign for “more” a few times and then wait expectantly for them to say or sign it back to you. The idea is to hold out on giving them the desired object until they try and say or sign the word. Do not hand the desired item to them right away.  Instead, model the word for them a few times and wait.  Give them plenty of wait time to respond or imitate.  They may start to get upset or frustrated.  If they start to become upset, hand them the item they want and model the word again. They may have not attempted the word at all, and that’s okay because you gave them a communication opportunity.  They are still learning and hearing you even if they are not imitating you verbally.  Maybe they will do it 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 want it, they will need to communicate with you in some way to get it. Somehow, they will let you know they want it and this creates communication opportunities. Make sure to withhold giving it to them while modeling the word and giving them plenty of wait time to respond or imitate you.


Your child may get a little frustrated during this. That is OK! Frustration can lead to communication. We communicate to get our wants and needs met and if we are not getting our wants and needs met we need to communicate better; even little children can understand this.

If your child is not verbal yet and you are wanting to start somewhere, start with baby sign! I love working on the word, “more” in this manner. Children want more of so many things so give them what they want bit by bit. As parents, we often give our kids an entire bowl of goldfish or all the blocks at once to keep them happy.  If you give them what they want all at once, they have no opportunities to ask for more. Each time they want more, they have another opportunity to communicate that to you.  Give just one goldfish and wait for them to request more. They may not imitate you or produce the desired word at first, but be consistent and they will likely start. Try hand over hand with baby sign as a starting place. Show them the sign for “more” and then take their little hands and do the sign with them. Once you do that with them, give them one goldfish. Then do the whole thing again. They will get the hang of it and will hopefully soon sign “more” by themselves.