Look at me! Watch this! What's that? I want that one!
These are all examples of common childhood communications. Whether in the form of words, gestures, or combinations of gestures and words or gestures and sounds, our children want our attention. We want their attention too. As parents we are constantly saying, "get the___", "where is ____?"
These examples require a skill called joint attention. What happens if that skill is delayed? When the skill is delayed, parents often report that the child will cry when something is wrong, but she doesn’t make attempts to tell or show you what they want.
So, when should joint attention develop? Joint attention develops as a child approaches toddlerhood. You will see them stop and turn when you say their name. They will look when you point at something. They will begin gesturing to get your attention.
Of course every child is different and some are more independent than others. Just remember that Interaction leads to listening. Listening leads to understanding language. Understanding language leads to using language. So, encourage that independent soul to engage.
Some fun ways to engage and practice joint attention:
1. Sit eye level with your little one when you play.
2. Use interesting objects to capture a distracted toddler’s attention.
3. Frequently model gestures, such as pointing and showing items as nonverbal ways of communicating.
4. Flashlight play with objects and books
5. Explore objects that have a different smell, texture, or taste.
6. Hide and find objects in sand, rice, under cups or blankets.
Do you have trouble getting your child to follow a regular schedule? Consistent routines and rules help create order and structure your day. Things go more smoothly when you and your child know what to expect. In addition, the predictability provides ample opportunity to learn to communicate.
Consistency, predictability, and follow-through are important for language learning. When you respond to your child’s behavior in a predictable manner, they learn the desired behaviors and the associated language scripts. When you are consistent, the behaviors you like will happen more often.
Routines and daily schedules help you and your child. You both know what to expect each day. Routines can also improve your child’s language and communication through the use of predictable scripts during routine activities. A novel addition to the routine is an opportunity to learn new vocabulary and behaviors. So, don't feel like military precision is the goal!
Keep things positive! Reward and praise your child for following routines and rules. Language rich praise provides behavior reinforcement while exposing your child to new vocabulary when you describe the behavior. Focus on describing your child’s good behaviors. Unless an undesired behavior is dangerous, try and extinguish it by ignoring it.
<iframe width="560" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/98c9MWER080" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
As parents we often make the assumption that distractibility is something our child can control. We may use a frustrated or angry tone of voice. We may use shame in our attempts to address the behavior. If we view the distractibility as something that requires our help instead of our discipline, we can get our emotions and actions under control in order to parent more effectively.
The goal is to reframe "distractibility" to a skill that can be taught like learning to read. Some people learn to read easily. Others, need additional help. So, choose a positive goal. For instance, "I will help my child learn to finish a specific task." Then, break it down into pieces that make success easy to see for you and your child.
I recommend starting with daily routine tasks and chores before trying to tackle more complex goals involving school.
Goal: Learn to clean his room.
1. Take a picture of the clean room. This way you both have the same visual in mind for the goal.
2. Provide individual steps toward the final product:
a. put laundry in the hamper
b. put books on the shelf
c. put toys in the toy chest
d. straighten and pull your covers up to the pillow
3. Start by only giving one instruction at a time. Prompt as needed and find things to praise along the way.
4. Over time, if you follow the same routine; he will learn the steps and become more independent.
5. Be patient and know that perfection is not the goal. No one is perfect. The goal is improvement. Breaking the task into pieces will help you both see improvement.
What works in your house? Please share
The first and most important step is to take the time to do it. Some days, it will be a short book. That's ok! Sometimes, you can just look at the pictures together. If your child wants to read the same book a thousand times, do it. Studies have demonstrated that repetitions of story books builds pre-literacy skills. Even if it feels like your child isn't listening, what you are doing matters. You are demonstrating by your presence and your actions that you are there for them. You are providing language and literacy growth opportunities just by reading to them.
If your child comments on the words or the pictures, talk about it. It helps build connections to real-life experiences.
If your child doesn't comment or has a communication disorder, notice your child's non-verbal communication. Listen for laughing or cooing and comment when appropriate, "isn't that silly? Just like -----." Your still building that connection to real life.
Most importantly, enjoy!
What is your child's favorite bedtime story? Share!
If at first you don’t succeed.....
Most of us know the story of the little engine that could. The moral of the story is task persistence. It’s easy to preach task persistence when the end is in sight and the goal is highly desired. It’s not so easy when we are pushed out of our comfort zone and success is not clearly defined.
So what does this mean for parents? If you know your child can achieve a task if she tries hard, it might be worth modeling effort and success for her first. Parents don’t have to make things look easy all of the time. The next time you struggle to achieve a goal, it’s OK to let your child see you sweat and keep trying.
We can also directly teach the concept. When your child is challenged and wants to walk away, encourage task persistence by praising one more try, one more turn, or one more page. Next time, it can be two more.
How do you handle task persistence and challenging tasks in your house?
Getting dressed can be a language rich activity! While dressing, the following can be incorporated:
1. Body parts for vocabulary and body awareness.
2. Clothing items for vocabulary and object use.
3. Colors for vocabulary, matching, and sorting.
4. Following directions: Single step: Get your shoes; 2 step: put on your shirt and pants.
5. Answering questions: "where are your shoes?"
6. Choices for engagement and interaction.
Do you have any other ideas? Please share.
As parents, we want to have a happy and peaceful family life. The ability to handle negative emotions and the fact that things aren’t always easy is key for that goal. So, next time your child gets upset when things don’t go his way, allow him to be upset. Don’t try to fix it. Just, calmly say, “ I see you’re upset because—. It’s ok to feel frustrated.” If the negative emotions escalate, allow a cool off time. You can say, “I see you’re upset. I’ll give you a few minutes to calm down.” Then, let them self-soothe. If, they are destructive or combative, then they’ve earned a time out. It’s ok to be upset. It’s not ok to hit or throw things.
Choose your battles. But, when you chose it, win. Ok, easier said than done. But, let me give a manageable example: You want your child to follow simple directions in the daily routine. However, you often find you’re either repeating yourself until you’re angry or just doing it yourself. This common struggle is actually a learning opportunity. It can start simply. You say, “5 more minutes of TV. Then, it’s time to read a book.” Demonstrate you mean it by setting the timer when you say it. (There is a handy timer on your smartphone) When the timer goes off, prompt your child to turn off the TV. If they don’t, then you walk over and do it yourself. No discussion. You just taught your child to respect boundaries, anticipate future events,and follow directions. You are also teaching time concepts including time management.
If they are upset, it’s ok. Use words to acknowledge their frustration or disappointment by providing the vocabulary and a strategy to self-soothe. Example, “I see you’re frustrated that it’s time to turn off the television. It’s ok to be frustrated. Why don’t you take a deep breath and choose a book in your room.” If they need assistance with the transition, a choice of books may be helpful. The bonus learning opportunity is emotional control, vocabulary, and the ability to self-soothe.
*visual schedules like the one pictured are available to print online. They are a great visual addition to our words to assist the routine. (It’s a strategy similar to adults checking the calendar or to-do list to stay on track)
Please share any simple strategies that work in your home.
The day can be a day of fun and celebration. But, it can be scary and overwhelming if you don't know what to expect and how to handle it. I am attaching a link to a social story that can be used to prepare your family for the festivities.
Do you have any tips to share?
The ability to maintain attention from the beginning to the end of a project is a necessary skill that we carry with us from toddlerhood. Here are some simple ways to help teach this skill:
1. puzzles (age appropriate)
2. blocks: building or clean up.
3. coins in a piggy bank.
4. Household chores: sorting laundry, sorting silverware, cleaning a spill, filling the toy trunk,...
These activities are language rich opportunities to follow directions and learn vocabulary with labels, colors, textures, prepositions, and more.
Lauren B. Norwood