Amber Graber - December 20, 2022

Did you know you can increase communication with silence? You’re frustrated, worried, overthinking, and seeking ways to help your child tell you what they need and what they want. I’m here to help! Below you’ll learn one of my favorite ways to increase communication.

Notice! This is a prompt to elicit communication. Communication can be body language, sign language, pointing, gesturing, or speaking. Before learning a fun new prompt to use with your child, ask yourself this question:

Do I want my child to speak? Or, do I want my child to communicate?

Now that you have your answer, let’s learn one of my favorite ways to increase communication!

Oftentimes, parents are not aware of the amazing prompts and cues they are already giving when speaking with their child. For example, most parents give great “first-then” language like, “first we’ll eat a snack, and then we’ll watch a movie.”

Another great way many parents speak to their children is by modifying their body language to be at their child’s height level. This creates a much more inviting, less intimidating communication experience for the child.

What is the favorite prompt?

However, one way parents unknowingly decrease communication opportunities is by over prompting with too many questions, changing the original question to an entirely new question, or not waiting long enough for a response.

For example, when leaving the house to go to the park, a parent may ask, “Where are your shoes?” Then they immediately follow up with, “Do you have the red ones?” These are two different questions requiring two different answers with not enough time to answer.

Here is where I tell you one of my favorite prompts. Are you ready?


Yep. A speech-language pathologist recommends that you in order to increase communication, one must try being quiet! Being quiet during strategic times will encourage your child to communicate with you more.

Let’s dive into that. As SLPs we call this “wait time.” We model language with a carrier phrase like, “I see a… bird,” or “the ball is… red” while using a sing-song pattern. Then, we repeat that carrier phrase but leave off the last word like this: “I see aaaa…” and we wait. After waiting (until it feels a bit awkward), we model the response we’re seeking from the child.

You’ve probably experienced a friend telling you a story about something that happened at work, while you’re passively listening and doing the dishes. Then, all of a sudden, you notice they stopped talking. You hear silence.

What do we do? We fill the silence by either saying, “Sorry, I wasn’t listening. What did you say?” Or, at the very least, your attention is now undivided because you’re embarrassed to admit you didn’t hear anything they said. The silence provided an indirect prompt to pay attention and process that there was a gap in communication that needed to be somehow filled.

This is an example of a neurotypical adult scenario. Now, let’s dive into what can be an example from a child’s perspective by using the bedtime story routine with a child around the age of 3–5 years.

Book: Brown Bear Brown Bear by Eric Carle

*Ideally this book is well known to the child in this hypothetical scenario and they are familiar with the repeated phases.

Parent: “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you—”

Child: “See!” (adult points to eyes and turns page to point to the blue bird)

Parent: “I see a blue bird looking at….”

Child: “Me!” (points to self)

(Repeat this throughout the book.)

Repetitive books like this one provide many opportunities to use the wait time/silence prompt to elicit communication. Remember, the child may verbalize and the child may not, but you will know if the child is engaged and demonstrating intentional communication through others modes of communication like pointing, eye gaze, sign language, etc.

Try this prompt during your daily routines such as getting dressed in the morning. Say, “I need myyyyyyyyy (shirt).” Try it while eating meals as well. “I want more apple (juice).” See how often you can increase communication with silence.

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

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