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Helping Your Child with Word Finding Difficulties

We’ve all had that feeling where our word or thought is on “the tip of the tongue.”  However, when this is recurring and interrupts communication with your child, then it becomes a problem.  Word finding difficulties (also called “word retrieval difficulties”) are not a vocabulary disorder.  Your child understands the definition of the word(s) and has used them before.  Word finding difficulties are the result of difficulties accessing the vocabulary they already have in their repertoire.  Imagine that your child’s vocabulary is like a library.  All the books are there, but your child just may not know where or how to get them.  Word finding difficulties are common in children with ADHD, learning disorders, and language disorders.

Common Signs of Word Finding Difficulty:

  • Using many filler words in place of specific vocabulary: “Where’s my, ah, um, my, um, you know….my backpack?”
  • Whole word/phrase repetition: “Do you know where, where, where my…. backpack is?”
  • Delayed responses: “Where’s my……………..backpack?”
  • Nonspecific language: “It’s on the thing.”

Strategies and Activities to Help Your Child:

  • Give your child time: It is easy to interrupt and fill in your child’s language during moments of word finding.  However, it is important to avoid this and give your child time to think about what he/she wants to say, and independently utilize word finding strategies.
  • Discuss attributes:  ‘Attributes’ are the common features that describe vocabulary – category, function, location, parts, and physical descriptions such as color, shape, and size.  During moments of word finding, encourage your child to describe the common attributes. For example, if your child cannot recall the word “cow,” he/she can provide attributes such as “it’s a big animal that lives on a farm, says moo, and gives us milk.”  As a communication partner, you can prompt your child by saying, “Tell me what it looks like; tell me where you find it.”
  • Sound/Letter cues:  Sometimes providing the initial letter or sound is as helpful to the child as providing the entire word.  As a communication partner, if you know the word your child is thinking of, use this strategy.  When you are unsure, encourage your child to give you the first letter or sound.
  • Word finding games: Word finding games such as Scattergories, Last Word, and Outburst are great games that target word finding skills.  If your child is having word finding difficulties, encourage him/her to use strategies such as identifying the category or function, describing what it looks like, or drawing a picture.

Feel free to share any of your word finding strategies below.  If you think your child has word finding difficulties, contact North Shore Pediatric Therapy and set up a speech-language evaluation.

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Speech Delays and Talkative Older Siblings

Older sibling with younger siblingA parent recently asked me what to do when her child’s older sibling constantly answers for him.  While it’s caring that the older sibling wants to help his little brother, it’s also very important for each child to have his own space to learn and develop, try new things, and make mistakes.  So how can parents help?

What to do when an older sibling compensates for a child with speech and language difficulties:

  • Talk to the older sibling alone. Instead of being reactive, be proactive by talking to your older child about his younger sibling’s needs.  Teach him that it takes time to learn how to talk, and he can help his younger sibling talk by giving him space to try on his own.
  • Use positive language. Instead of telling older siblings what they can’t do, tell them what they can do.  For example, “You can help Jonny talk by being a good listener,” or, “You can be a helpful big brother by letting other people have a turn to talk.”
  • Teach older siblings alternative ways to be a helper. Praise your older child for wanting to help his younger sibling, and then offer him other ways to help. For example, he can help his younger sibling by being a good listener, by giving him time to finish his ideas, and by saying encouraging things (such as, “good job!” or, “thanks for sharing your idea!”).
  • Emphasize “talking turns” between family members.  It’s important for all children to learn conversation rules early on, which includes learning about listening, interruptions, and waiting for a turn to talk.  This can certainly be hard for young kids.  To help, emphasize “talking-turns.”  (“It’s Jonny’s turn to talk. Next will be your turn to talk.”)  You might even use a tangible object, such as a toy microphone, ball, or teddy bear, to pass back and forth when it’s each person’s turn.
  • Play games as a family that promote turn-taking.  You might take turns with a toy by passing it back and forth, play catch with a ball, or play a board game that involves turn-taking, such as Barn Yard Bingo, Candy Land, or Zingo.
  • Encourage active listening. Teach family members what it means to be a good listener. Use concrete examples such as, “You can listen by looking at the person who is talking,” or, “When you are listening, your mouth is quiet.”
  • Set aside one-on-one time for each sibling to play with a parent alone. Language development is enhanced through modeling, practice, and play with caregivers.  To make sure your child is receiving language-rich opportunities, set aside 15-20 minutes each day to play one-on-one with your child.
  • Praise the things that are going well. When you notice positive behavior, reinforce your child right away using very specific language.  For example, “Wow! You let Jonny have a turn to talk. You are a very good big brother when you let other people have a turn to talk.”

By incorporating these strategies into your daily routine, you can help your children develop healthier communication habits.  Older siblings have a special role as a “big brother” or “big sister.”  By teaching them about their special role, you can encourage your kids to feel more positive about helping their younger siblings. For more ideas about how to incorporate siblings into your child’s speech and language development, visit the blog, Encouraging Siblings to Help With Speech & Language Practice.

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Heavy Work Strategies for the Busy Family

Young Boy Holding a Pile of LaundryLife can get heavy from time to time and everyone gets stressed out. Unknowingly, many adults cope with said ‘stressors’ by incorporating various self-regulating strategies into their daily routines. They may take a deep breath or find their ‘zen’ in a yoga class. Some may take pleasure in the simplicity of sipping a warm cup of tea, while other more physical individuals resort to running a mile or two. Yet others prefer to lounge under a tree to read an enchanting romance novel. Children, like adults, need to have the ability to calm their bodies and self-regulate. One way for children to gather themselves in times of stress is by incorporating “heavy work” into their daily routine. ‘Heavy work’ activities provide deep proprioceptive input into a child’s muscles and joints, and thereby help them self-regulate in the same way that exercise may help an adult deal with stress.

Here are some examples of preparatory methods that can be incorporated into everyday life and used before a child encounters a stressful situation such as a loud birthday party, busy school day, or long car ride.

Heavy Work Activities To Provide Deep Proprioceptive Input For Children:

  • Help Mom: The completion of many chores can help incorporate ‘heavy work’ into a child’s daily routine. Examples include: carrying laundry, stirring recipes, pushing a grocery cart, or carrying shopping bags from the car.
  • Relay races and other forms of exercise are wonderful ways to build endurance and self-regulate. Examples include: wheelbarrow walks, froggy jumps, bear crawls, army crawls, crab walks, skipping, galloping, yoga, swimming, and gymnastics.
  • Play Outside: Take a walk and pull a wagon full of goodies, push a friend or sibling on the swing at the playground, build a
    sandcastle at the beach, or help around the house with yard work.
  • Rearranging Furniture: Pushing heavy chairs and couches provides deep proprioceptive input to the major joints and muscle groups of the body. You could put a fun spin on the activity and make a fort using furniture and blankets right in your living room!

‘Heavy work’ strategies can be incorporated into everyday life no matter the context or season. The use of these strategies may assist your child with more independence and self-soothing when they are feeling upset. This will also allow them to strengthen their muscles, increase their endurance, and may just help you cut back on the time spent completing housework chores. For other self-regulating ideas, please contact a NSPT occupational therapist.

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Household Chores for Children by Age

Children doing household choresWith school, holidays and less time to keep up with household chores, parents everywhere are looking for a few more helping hands to keep “home base” spick and span. Here is a brief overview of developmentally appropriate household chores:

Here is a brief overview of the developmental sequence of household chores:

Chores for a 13 month old:

Your child should begin to imitate you completing household chores. Pushing a pretend vacuum cleaner over the carpeting or helping you wipe up their craft table are excellent examples.

Chores for a 2 year old:

Your child should demonstrate the ability to pick up and put away their toys with verbal reminders (e.g. clean-up your puzzle before lunch).

Chores for a 3 year old:

Your child should be able to carry things without dropping them; dusting, drying dishes, and gardening. They should also be able to wipe up their spills.

Chores for a 4 year old:

Your child should be able to prepare dry cereal and snacks for themselves. They should also be able to help sort laundry before washing.

Chores for a 5 year old:

Your child should be able to put their toys away neatly, make a sandwich, take out the trash, make their bed, put dirty clothes in their hamper, and appropriately answer the telephone.

Chores for a 6 year old:

Your child should be able to help you with simple errands: complete household chores without redoing them, clean the sink, wash dishes with assistance, and cross the street safely.

Chores for a 7-9 year old:

Around 7-9 years of age, your child should begin to cook simple meals, put clean clothes away, hang up their clothes, manage small amounts of money, and use a telephone correctly.

Chores for a 10-12 year old:

Your child should have the ability to cook simple meals with supervision, complete simple household repairs with appropriate tools, begin doing laundry, set the table, wash dishes, and care for a family pet with reminders.

Chores for a 13-14 year old:

Your child should be able to independently do laundry and cook meals. By expecting your child to complete daily chores before moving onto their preferred activities, it is a wonderful way to prepare them for the demands of homework and other activities when they return to school.

Children of all ages can contribute to keeping up with housework. In addition to keeping your house clean, chores are also an excellent way to instill a sense of ownership and responsibility into your child’s daily routine. Your child could be responsible for one or two chores each day, or each week, depending on the time they have available. Create your own system for keeping track of the chores your child has completed (ex. sticker chart or a marble jar). Each time your child completes their chore, reward them with one token (ex. one sticker or one marble). When they reach 10 tokens, reward them with a bigger prize of their choosing (ex. an ice cream treat or a trip to the zoo). Be sure to verbally praise your child with each attempt at completing a chore and assist them as needed, especially while they work to complete a novel duty. Your verbal encouragement paired with the reward system will only help to motivate your child to take on more and more responsibility at home.

Fleming-Castaldy, R. P. (2009). National Occupational Therapy Certification Exam: Review and
Study Guide. Evanston, IL: International Educational Resources, Ltd.

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Breaking the Ice: Go-To Conversation Starters for Kids

Many children find it difficult to approach new friends. They often learn how, by watching others and trying things out. While they mayClassmates talking outdoors be able to do this on their own, they will be even more effective if they have an adult to provide guidance, appropriate phrases, and opportunities to practice.

Having  “go-to” phrases can really help children be prepared for social opportunities and lower anxiety about the unexpected.  Here are some ideas to share with your kids.

Conversation Starters For Children:

Help them pick out 2-3 of their favorite “go-to’s” and practice in role play with each-other  toys/figurines or new children (when ready).

Just introduce yourself!

Example: “Hi! I’m Alex.”

Ask a question about what they’re doing.

Example: “Are you playing the new Angry Birds game?”

Show that you’re interested in them.

Example: “I think I want to read that book. Do you like it?”

Give a compliment.

Example: “I like your backpack!”

Ask for their opinion.

Example: “Which video game do you like the best?”

Share a little about yourself.

Example: “I moved once too, so I know it’s really hard at first.”

Offer to help.

Example: “I can show you where that classroom is!”

Offer an invitation.

Example: “Want to sit together at lunch?”

Guide your child by talking about each idea and asking them which ones they prefer. This is a great conversation to have with your child as school just begins, to help lower that back to school anxiety!

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