Young children love to be in control (who doesn’t?). Think about it: so many aspects of their lives are decided for them — what and when they’ll eat, where they go each day, when they take a bath, etc. For children with hearing loss, parents may tend to be even more directive, giving short, simple commands to head off any misunderstandings by a child with limited language. But challenge yourself! Giving choices can help meet an important developmental need while growing language skills as well!
You can use choices to elicit labels and requests from children in a much more natural way than a rusty old, “Repeat after me…” If a child is not yet ready to answer a question like, “What do you want for snack today?” don’t cut the language down to “Say, ‘I want an apple'” and have the child repeat. That takes all of the language learning responsibility off of the child and turns him into a parrot — not what we want! Avoid the temptation to use a yes/no question, too (“Do you want an apple?”). Too easy! Instead, offer a choice:
“Do you want an apple or a banana?” That way, the child has to use at least one word to make his request, versus repeating what you say or answering a yes/no question.
Another way to encourage children to use words without requiring them to repeat is to make observations. If a child is reaching for the cookie jar, jumping up to try to take off the lid, and pushing a chair over the counter to climb up, it’s pretty obvious what she’s trying to do. But instead of saying, “Do you want a cookie?” where all that is required of the child is to say “yes” or “no,” don’t ask a question at all. Make a statement. “It looks like you want a cookie.” Then the child is given the language to describe what she’s doing/feeling (“want a cookie”) in a way that she can use it without directly repeating.
Giving choices meets a crucial developmental need for children and shows them the power that their words have. What a wonderful life-long lesson!