Sometimes a child learns to use methods other than speech to communicate.  These methods may be using gestures, pointing, directing, pulling or pushing adults, screaming, crying, tantrums and possibly negative behaviors.  In order to change this and teach a child that using words is more effective, one must “shape” the child’s communication. Below are strategies commonly used to encourage a child to use words to communicate instead of other less effective and inappropriate methods.


 1.      Set Clear Expectations: Set the expectations from the start.  This may be as simple as, “I expect my child to talk”. Keep it simple.

 2.      Be Consistent: If you expected them to point to the cereal picture yesterday, expect it today.

 3.      Teach the Skill: Begin with an item or activity that is not a “must have”.  For example use a favorite snack or food treat, or a much desired toy or activity such as bubbles.  The food or toy should be highly motivating to the child.  This encourages the child to engage, but it also allows you to wait out your child for the desired response. It is ok if they do not get the food or the toy.

 4.      Set the Stage: Encourage your child to ask for the desired item. Demonstrate by saying the word, making a sound, pointing to a picture (not the item) or signing “more” (move both hands together with fingertips touching). They must do something to get something – they must be an active communicator.  They MUST produce the desired response to get the item from you.  IMPORTANT: You are choosing the desired response, they need to copy you.

 5.      Be Consistent: Children learn expectations faster when they are the same every day.

 6.      Wait them Out: Give the child time to produce the desired response. Repeat demonstration of desired response to make clear it is what you want them to do.  You can wait them out because you have chosen something they don’t have to get now.  (Do they really need a cookie?  No, this is a want, not a need!)  You may need to put the item away and try again a short time later. They MUST produce the desired response in order to get the item from you. 

 7.      Play Dumb: Playing dumb encourages your child to explore ways to get what they want. Say, "I don't know what you want?"  Shrug your shoulders.  Sometimes just being quiet is the best way to encourage communication.  This makes your child think about using other ways to communicate. As a parent you interpret their wants and meet their needs without them using words/signs or gestures.  You may immediately respond to them because instinctually you know what they want.

 8.      Be Consistent: NO communication, NO item, EVERY time.

 9.      Choose your Battles: You may wish they would sign/say “more” each time they want everything and anything, but when you are just beginning to teach the skill only expect the sign/word for ONE activity.  Continue to model in all settings, but do not expect it. 

10.     Do Something to Get Something: Teach the child they must be an active communicator. After success with initial items, pick other activities to prompt active communication such as making a sound, using a word, using a sign, or pointing to a picture of the wanted item. Remember child has to give you the desired response to get the desired item.

 By: Early Start SLP, PT, OT Therapy and Evaluation Services, Pllc                                      March 2011

             Behavioral Do's and Don'ts

 DO’s    DON'T’s

1.  Speak in a positive tone.

 Examples: Feet on the floor

                 Walk please


 2.  Make clear statements. 


It is time to eat dinner.

You need to put on your clothes.



3.  Be consistent!  Set clear expectations and follow them every time.  State what you expect, one warning when they do not follow request and then consequence.

Example:  If you threaten time out and the behavior occurs again the child MUST go to time out or they will learn you don't really mean it!


4. Give choices as much as possible.


"It's time for dinner.  Do you want to use a fork or a spoon?" (notice that eating is not the choice).

"Do you want to wear the red shirt or blue shirt?"

"What do you want to put on first?"  (notice that getting dressed is not the choice).


5. Do identify, label, and reward positive behavior.


I like how you cleaned up.

You did a good job eating your dinner.


I am putting 2 stickers on your sticker chart because you put your shoes away.


1. Don't use negative words in your requests.

Examples:  No jumping, stop

                  Stop/No running


2. Do not ask a question if there is no choice.


Do you want to eat dinner?

Do you want to get dressed?


3. Don't allow a behavior sometimes and punish for it other times.   Don't threaten a consequence and not follow through.

Example:  Child jumps on the furniture and you say, “sit on the couch."  Child jumps again and you say, "If you jump again you will go to time out." Child jumps again and again and you say, "I mean it if you jump again you will go to time out." Your child continues and you never follow through with the timeout. You may need to go get the child to get them to sit on the couch.

4. Don't always word your requests as "you have to”.

Don't state things that need to get done, "you have to do this or do that” in a threatening tone.



 "You have to eat your dinner."

 "Get dressed now."

Instead state it in a way that allows the child to have a choice in a job that needs to get done.

5. Don’t bring attention to every negative behavior.  Don’t label your child as “bad”, label their behavior.


If they are spitting, instead of saying, “No spitting, or “stop spitting”, start singing a fun song.  Be animated and funny to distract them from spitting.

Don’t say, “I don’t like you when you spit.”

Instead say, “I don’t like spitting, spitting is not allowed.”


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Behavior Strategies for Young Children

Be consistent, Be consistent, Be consistent

Make sure all caregivers are aware of the expectations and behavior strategies and follow through.  Children will learn expectations faster when they are consistent.  When the rules change, children get confused and don’t know what is expected.

Say what you mean, Mean what you say

Tell your child what you expect of them, even if they are young, they will learn over time. Tell them what you expect ahead of time and remind them often.  EXAMPLE: When you arrive at the grocery store, state in the parking lot that you are not buying candy or a toy.  Repeat it while walking in the store and remind them as you approach the checkout. DO NOT buy them candy or a toy no matter how often they ask or how loud they tantrum.  This teaches them that you mean what you say.  Always be clear and concise.

Establish a Routine

Having a routine helps children know what comes next. If nap is always after lunch, children learn to accept it faster because it ALWAYS happens.  Talk about the routine and remind them of what is coming next.  Warn them before transitions.  EXAMPLE: In 5 minutes we will clean up play-dough, in 1 minute we will clean up play-dough.  This helps them get ready to accept being finished with play-dough.  Pre-set the child for the next activity.


Sometimes disengaging from the situation or the behavior makes it stop.  Do not allow yourself to argue and banter back and forth with your child.  State the expectation, state the consequence, end of discussion.  Continuing banter back and forth encourages the child to continue to try to wear you down or get you to change the rules.  Disengaging allows the adult to take a break and regroup.  Take a step back, stop and think.

Use “First, then” Statements

Use “First, then” statements.  “First you need to put your coat on, then you may go outside.”  “First clean up the toy, then you may get out a new one”.  As soon as they complete the first request, immediately do the second request.

Time Out

If you use time out, it is one minute for each year of age.  Do not argue or converse with child while in time out.  Child must be quiet and calm before leaving the time out area.  Sometimes time out helps the child calm down.

Be the Teacher

Your child needs to be taught how to behave.  Don’t expect them to get it right the first time.  You must continually teach them what is right and what is wrong.  Many parents say, “They don’t do what I tell them to do.”  You need to teach them and that means actively showing them and working with them.  Embrace their success, it encourages them to do it again!

Who’s the Boss?

Always remember that the parents/adults are in charge of the house.  Do not allow your child to control the adults in the house.  Your child should not be the boss

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Developmental Milestones - Birth to 3 years old

Speech & Language

Gross Motor Skills

Fine Motor Skills

Cognitive & Social Skills

Birth to 6 months

Responds to faces-cooing/eye contact.

Specific cries.

React to sounds/voices-turns to look.

Laughs and squeals while interacting.

Looks at self in mirror.

Begins to babble-more than vowels.

Holds head up.

Rolls from stomach to back.

Lifts head and props on arms when on stomach.

Rolls from back to stomach.

Sits with support.

Grasps a rattle.

Pulls at clothes.

Reaches, put objects in mouth.

Holds bottle with both hands.


Moves hand toward mouth.

Begins to develop a social smile.

Enjoys social interactions with people.

Imitates movements and facial expressions.

Recognizes they are the cause of an action.


6 to 12 months

Begins to respond to name.

Produces a variety of sounds (ba, da, ga, ka).

Yells or shouts to attract attention.

Engages in turn taking games (peek a boo).

Engages in vocal turn taking with sounds, inflections and combinations of sounds that mimic words.

Reaches for objects of interest.

Begins to direct others with actions or behavior (leans to get down, hands objects to share, pats, hugs, pushes).

May begin to say words, " mama", "dada" , animals sounds

Crawls on hands and knees.

Sits independently.

Sits self up from the floor.

Pulls to stand on furniture.

Walks with support.

Rolls ball back and forth with adult.

Begins to walk independently.


Bangs objects on table.

Transfers item from one hand to the other.

Feeds self finger foods.

Releases small objects into a container.

Pokes and points with index finger.

Begins to imitate actions such as "so big," "patty cake".

Understands "no" and may shake head "no"

Waves "bye-bye".

Explores toys in a variety of ways (shaking, banging, mouthing).

12 to 18 months

True words begin to emerge.

 Number of words a child says at this age varies greatly from 0 to 50.

Demonstrates communicative intent.

Recognizes familiar people and familiar objects in pictures.

Imitates gestures associated with a simple song. (Wheels on the Bus)

Creeps up and down steps.

Walks independently.

Throws a small ball.

Carries large toy while walking.

Climbs steps in upright position with support.

Begins to kick a large ball.

Climbs on and off adult furniture.

Marks on paper with crayon.

Drinks from a sippy type cup.

Stacks 2-3 small blocks.

Begins to use a spoon.

Uses finger-thumb pincer grasp.

Removes socks.




Finds objects they saw hidden under a blanket or other object.

Begins to use objects for their intended purpose.

Follows simple directions ("bring me the ball").

Likes to look at picture books, begins to point to pictures.

Makes marks on paper with crayons.

Engages in simple pretend play ("talks" on a toy phone).

18 to 24 months

Consistently uses words to communicate.

Begins to join 2 words together.

Demonstrates understanding of simple concepts such as up, all gone, in, out.

Significant decrease in babbling.

May use jargon that models adult speech patterns.

Uses intonation to ask a question.

Uses fast walking for running.

Walks up and down stairs with one hand support.

Kicks a playground ball.

Pushes and pulls toys while walking.


Starts using fingers and thumb to grasp crayons.

Imitates vertical and circular scribbles.

Strings 1-3 inch beads.

Snips paper using scissors.

Builds tower with 3-5 blocks.

Finds an object hidden under 2 to 3 barriers.

Follows simple directions.

Imitates behaviors of both children and adults.

Demonstrates independence - plays alone for brief periods of time.

Points to pictures upon request.

Shows affection.


24 to 30 months

Understands simple questions and commands.

Asks and answers what/where questions.

Verbally labels pictures.

Begins to use plural words.

Engages in short verbal exchanges.

Can make predictions based on presented information/ pictures.

Jumps in place.

Runs well without falling.

Walks backwards.

Throws tennis ball forward 3 feet.

Walks up stairs without support.

Jumps down from 6 inch height.

Jumps forward 4 – 6 inches.

Unscrews screw-top lid.

Begins manipulating small items within the hand.

Cuts paper into two pieces.

Holds crayon with fingers, not fist (pronated grasp).

May use one hand consistently in most activities.

Begins to sort by color.

Shows defiant behavior.

Begins to play make believe (pretend they are someone else ie: fireman).

Follows 2 step directions.

Comforts a distressed friend or parent.

30 to 36 months

Begins to use more complex sentences containing “a”,“the”, “-ing”, “-ed”.

Understands simple time concepts.

 Follows 2 unrelated directions.

Begins to talk about events not immediately present.

Uses personal pronouns (“I”, “you”, “he” ,“she”).

Attends to simple story being read.

Throws tennis ball forward 5 feet.

Stands on one foot.

Walks on tiptoes.

Places one foot on each step when going both up and down the stairs.

Catches a large ball thrown from 5 feet away.

Rides a tricycle using pedals.

Jumps forward 6-12 inches.

Hops on one foot.


Imitates simple block designs.

Copies a circle and a cross.

Manipulates clay and play-dough.

Buttons and unbuttons large buttons.

Undresses self.

Assists with dressing self.

Cuts paper on a line.

Builds a tower of 9-10 blocks.

Recites own name.

Draws a circle.

Names at least one color.

Stacks stacking rings or nesting cups in size order.

Matches simple shapes (circle, triangle, square).

Repeats finger plays with words and actions.