Do you find yourself constantly giving directions to your child? “Stand here!” “Can you get your backpack?” “Give some to your sister!” “Don’t do that!” “Put away those toys!
Here’s a strategy you can try – It’s called declarative language! Declarative language statements can help support your child’s independent processing of language to engage with the “why” of directions in social situations with more independence.
What is it?
Using a comment, observation, or thought to prompt your child’s internal thought processes about how to participate in a social situation.
What does it sound like?
“Our dog looks really hungry!” —> Child goes to get the dog food
“I notice your sister looking at your toys. Maybe she wants to play too!” —> Child includes peer in play
“Looks like mom, dad, grandma, and brother are at the table for dinner” —> Child joins meal time
“I don’t know if I can get to the other side of the room safely when the toys are out” —> Child clears toys out of the way
“Smells like the cookies are ready. They might be really hot.” —> Child suggests or takes out oven mitts.
It can also sound like a comment, without inherent pressure to respond!
“I loved going to the park with you today!”
“My favorite part of the movie was when…”
“Don’t forget about how you did the monkey bars all by yourself! I wonder how you felt about that.”
What is it not?
Using a direct command or a command disguised as a question.
“Go pick up those toys.”
“Can you please put away the spoons?”
Let’s apply declarative language to a familiar situation: Errands time!
It’s time to go out to run some errands in the community. You are ready to go, but your child is still missing their socks, shoes, and jacket. You could use a directive such as, “Put on your socks, put on your shoes, and then put on your jacket.” Or, you could try a declarative statement instead such as, “I am all ready to go! I wonder what you need to be ready.”
You might find that this type of statement will kick-start your child’s thought process for the social situation of leaving the house, and your child might then be able to get ready on their own without further instructions! Your child might even respond verbally, “I need my socks and shoes! I need my coat!” Then, you’ve created a dynamic experience in which you have a verbal dialogue with your child, as opposed to the command being given and then followed. The child is less dependent on your verbal command, because you’ve prompted their thought process instead!
However, if your child does not respond to declarative language cues right away, you might consider an additional statement. In the example above, you could try, “I’ve got my socks, my shoes, and a coat just in case I feel cold” or point to those items on yourself.
To wrap up! While younger children with language delays tend to benefit from simply-worded directives to follow commands reliably, an older child or one who has mastered following directives may be a good candidate for declarative language cues instead.
By replacing the direct command with a “I notice,” “I think,” or “maybe” statement, you put the onus on your child to engage thoughtfully with the social situation at hand, figure out their response or action, and do so with a greater level of independence. Prompt dependence and power struggles decrease, while connection, problem solving, and teamwork increase!
For more information, check out “The Declarative Language Handbook” which is available on Amazon for $9.99. The book is catered to children with social learning challenges, but the principles can be applied to any child! It’s a quick read, with applicable examples you can start to use with your child right away. I highly recommend it!
Written by: Christie Haggerty M.S. CCC-SLP, TSSLD
Speech-Language Pathologist/Feeding Therapist