When it comes to improving language and social skills, and evolving cognitive behavior in children, it is natural that a behavior analyst will look for environmental variables that may impact behaviors that influence these areas of learning. There are various studies showing that children’s early life experiences can play an important role in language development. There are also various educational models that result in improvement in language and other cognitive and social skills. However, there is also evidence suggesting that any gains or advantages can diminish over time, especially in children of poor and working-class families.
Through their book Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children (1995), Hart and Risley found that the quality and frequency of speech between parents and infants (6 to 8 months of age) have a direct impact on their vocabularies. They were also able to teach parents at home, and on the job to say more to their children and be more reinforcing (as opposed to primitive and discouraging in nature) when their children imitated and took notice to their examples.
The following are some strategies that can assist you in improving your child’s verbal and overall social skills.
Tips For Finding Everyday Moments To Teach Verbal And Social Skills
Identify a few learning goals that you want to focus on with your child (e.g. establishing eye contact, asking for a preferred item, etc.)
- To start out with, it may be helpful to choose some activities in which to focus on (e.g. looking at your child’s favorite book, playing with a preferred toy)
Look and plan for “Teachable moments”
- Can include daily routines (e.g. meals, playtime, car trips, getting dressed, watching TV, etc)
- Take time to plan your events (e.g. During a community outing you can work on one word exchanges with others, gross motor imitation, or eye contact). This may help eliminate trying to think of what to do while you are in the middle of doing it.
Pay attention to what your child wants. The best “teachable moment” is when your child wants something (e.g. food, toy, attention, a break, etc)
- Let your child select the activity
- Let your child initiate the interaction by requesting assistance from the adult
- Requests can be verbal and nonverbal e.g. calling your name, crying, stretching for an object, asking for food, play material, or information
The “teachable moment” should be just that – a moment. Keep it brief and enjoyable. If it goes too long it may become unpleasant to the child. In this case stop and go on to another activity.
Start small and set a goal – “Today I will look for 3 “teachable moments”
- As you get used to this it will start to feel more natural and you can increase your goal
- Keep planning to make sure you are reaching your goals