I know what you’re thinking…something along the lines of “but my child’s not using any/many words of course I need to be telling them lots of words!” This totally comes from the right place – we want to help our children when they are having difficulty with their understanding of language, use of words, speech clarity, when they struggle to get words out or even if they are reluctant or anxious to speak. In the media at the moment there is so much about “The Word Gap” and reducing this and many have taken this to mean we need to be providing children with lots of words. The key bit that may be overlooked is that any language being used needs to take place within play and interactions i.e. engaging in and following our child’s interests.
I remember the day I found out about using extra silence (along with other adult-child interaction strategies) with children and those with speech, language and communication difficulties thanks to Keena Cummins. This was the one that caught my attention and it went against every instinct in me as a parent, as an adult and all that I’d been previously been taught as a therapist and yet it made sense! When I reflected on this, I recognised I’d used silence without realising it, for example, when I’m trying to engage with a reluctant child in my session or even with one of my nephews, allowing them time to warm up and feel comfortable, but I didn’t consciously use this all the time.
Intrigued, the next day I was at home and sat playing with my 18 month-old son, at the time and, I thought let’s give this a try and see what happens. I can tell you if you’re used to talking at your child, asking lots of questions, commenting or even worried about your child’s talking, being silent is the hardest thing and requires a lot of practice, particularly when on the face it you feel you’re doing nothing! However, the result over a few weeks was really powerful. By giving my son extra silence when I joined him in play, I suddenly was able to notice and see the subtle ways he communicated with me, could see his thinking and planning in what he did with the toys. I also noticed he stayed far longer at the activity he’d chosen just by me sitting there valuing what he was doing. The key was the moment he ‘face watched’ by glancing/looking at my face, that was the moment I would smile and interpret or say a word, add on to what he had said or comment. With these foundations and framework, this is where interactions and language grow from.
When we’re silent we’re actually allowing our children to take the control and show us what they can do, and we then scaffold and sculpt language onto this in the moment. This is truly how we acquire language. We’re allowing our child to take the initiative and getting them ready for the social world out there, so that they can also get the language they need from any adult they interact with in their day independently. We’re also taking the pressure off them, allowing them time to be comfortable and re-connect. They’re showing when they’re ready to communicate with us and in that moment they ‘face watch’, they not only get the word/s they need from us but within the context, seeing our facial expressions and how we make the words.
Now, since those pre-school years with my boys, I have used and shared this strategy within the wider approach with many clients and they’re always so surprised how giving extra silence can be so effective.
So why don’t you have a play with using extra silence with your child in play and see where this leads you and your child…