Good afternoon, everyone. Speech-language pathologist/momma here. Lately, my husband and I have been focusing on improving our almost 2-year old’s question comprehension. We are by no means expecting her to be able to answer what function questions, such as, “What do you do with a glass?”, but we are trying to move her past the stage where she no longer repeats the last word we say when we ask her a question. For example, when she begins whining, I’ll say, “What do you want?” She’ll say, “Want.” I’ll say it again: “Laurel, what do you WANT?” (emphasis put on the word “want” when I say it). She’ll again say, “Want.” So I get to employ my awesome speech-language pathology tactics 😉 and show my husband how to cue, increase comprehension, etc. So anyway, today I will be giving you all speech-language therapy methods you can use at home to improve your child’s question comprehension.
There are many different types of questions. There are yes/no questions. Such as, “Do you want something to eat?” There are “what” questions such as, “What do you want to eat?” or “What do you do with a spoon?” There are also “where, when, why, and how” questions. So why is this all even important? Being able to comprehend questions is essential to being able to carry on successful, everyday interactions with people and learn new things. Being able to comprehend questions is important to overall quality of life. When your child gets older and goes to the school nurse or a doctor by themselves, will they be able to give all the information they need to the nurse or doctor in order to get the treatment they need? Question comprehension goes both ways. Not only can your child answer questions, but can they also ASK questions? Asking questions is crucial to getting wants and needs met, no matter age we are. Anything from as simple as, “Can I have something to eat?” to “I’m lost. Will you help me find my parents?”
Asking and Answering Questions Development
“Not all questions are created equal. Some questions are easier for children to learn and others require more complex thinking and verbal skills.” This statement about question comprehension and the question development chart below came from https://www.speechandlanguagekids.com/questions-resource-page/
Age ~~ Question Skills Mastered
1-2 yrs ~~ Chooses from two objects (by pointing or speaking) when asked what she wants
Answers simple “where” questions by pointing, such as “where’s the ball”
Answers “what’s this” questions about familiar objects or pictures
Answers yes/no questions, possibly with a head nod or shake
Starts to use question words, beginning with “what’s that?”
Uses a rising intonation (pitch goes up at the end) to indicate that she’s asking something, like saying “Daddy?”
2-3 yrs ~~ Points to objects when described, such as “What do you wear on your head?”
Answers longer questions, such as “where…?”, “what….doing?”, and “who is…..?”
Answers or understands “Can you…” questions
Asks basic questions about her own wants and needs, such as “where cookie?”
Asks “Where…?”, “What…?”, “What….doing?” questions
3-4 yrs ~~ Answers more complex questions, such as “who”, “why”, “where”, and “how”
Answers “If…what…?” questions, such as “if it starts raining, what do you do?”
Answers questions about the function of objects “what do you do with a fork?”
Uses “what, where, when, how, and whose” when asking questions
Asks “Is…” Questions
Inverts word order to ask, such as “Is daddy going?” instead of “Daddy is going?”
4 yrs ~~ Answers “when” questions
Answers “how many” questions (as long as the answer doesn’t exceed 4)
Asks the following types of questions using correct grammatical structure: “Do you want to…”, “Are we going to…”, “can you…”
Where Do I Start With My Child?
By looking at the chart above, you can see being able to answer yes/no questions is among the simplest. Thus, as a child develops, they will naturally be able to answer yes/no questions first, then simple “where” questions, and so on and so forth. You need to start, however, with what your child can actually do right now. For example, if they are 3 years old and unable to answer yes/no questions, do not start with teaching your child “where” questions, start with yes/no questions and follow the developmental sequence in the chart above. If you ask your child to do something that is farther up on the chart than what they are ready for, that is like asking a child that can not yet stand, to run.
Not Sure Where Your Child Falls on the Question Development Chart?
Test what they know. Get a camera ready to record or have a pen and paper ready so you can make note of what your child can and can not do. Start at the top of the development chart by asking your child “where” an object or person is. Make sure it is something they should know and is something that is in the room! For example, “Where is Mommy?” or “Where is your teddy?” They should either point to or look at the object or person. Proceed through the development chart based on how your child performs. If they do NOT demonstrate comprehension of the different types of questions in the 1-2 year old section, no matter their age, stop testing what they know, and begin specifically targeting the skills in that section. I know this may take a while, but starting at the right place, really makes an ENORMOUS impact on your child’s improvement.
Something to Think About Is…
Difficulty comprehending questions or asking questions can sometimes be a result of NOT KNOWING the name of objects. Knowing the word that goes with a object, action, or person is vocabulary. If your child does not have a solid vocabulary in place, this will make comprehension difficult for them. For example, how can they tell you an object is a “book,” if they don’t know what to call it? When it comes to language skills, different causes and symptoms can overlap each other. Check out Is Your Child Having Difficulty Communicating? It May Be Due to a Limited Vocabulary Bank and How to Expand Your Child’s Vocabulary to Improve Their Communication.
Please do not get overwhelmed! The awesome thing about the fact that language skills overlap one another, is if you are working on improving one language skill, you’re most likely improving 2 or 3 other language skills without even realizing it!
Techniques to Improve Your Child’s Comprehension
First of all, be consistent! Use whatever activities below to improve your child’s comprehension or any others you have found to be successful, but be CONSISTENT with what you expect of your child and patient! As stated above, I am working on my toddler’s comprehension of questions and it sometimes takes several times and lots of chest tapping (see below) to get her to answer one question correctly.
Chest tapping. Ask your child a question and then immediately take your child’s hand and tap it on their chest while saying the answer. Do this several times and after the 2nd time, have your child say the answer with you while tapping their chest. This will help your child realize their is a “my turn/response” and a “your turn/response.”
Is Your Child Not Talking Yet or is Nonverbal? They can use pictures to communicate. Please check out How to Teach Your Nonverbal Child to Communicate Without Using Words. The activities in this post can be applied to verbal and nonverbal children.
Visuals. When you ask your child a question, if possible, provide a visual in the form of the actual object to help your child comprehend the question. Over time, as your child comprehension improves, reduce the number of times you provide visuals.
Choices. Ask your child a question and then give them two choices as to how they can respond. In the beginning, make one choice what you think they want and the other choice something they would not want. For example, if your child wants something to eat, you could say, “Do you want a sandwich or some lettuce?” (That is, assuming your child DOES like sandwiches and does NOT generally want lettuce when hungry.) Over time, fade the undesired choice out and name 2 choices of things they may actually want.
Give them their “choice.” If you asked your child a question and they gave their response, EVEN if you KNOW they do not want what they indicated they wanted, give it to them anyway. If they did not give a response, then do not give them anything. For example purposes, let’s say you asked, “Do you want me to read you a book or do you want to go to bed right now?” If they say, “Bed!”, take them to bed. If they seem confused or show discontent, repeat your question. Use the chest tapping technique if necessary to help them understand.
Tempt them. Hold a food or toy that you know your child likes. Don’t offer it to your child, but just hold it within their line of sight and look at something else in the room other than your child. Wait for them to ask for it.
Speak for them. We can all tell when our child has reached their breaking point. Sometimes, more words and more talking is just going to overwhelm and confuse them more. If this is the case, ask them what they want, and immediately tap their chest while you say, “I want ____” or “________.” Then give them the item or activity. Proceed with caution with this one. Kids pick up quick and will take advantage of this one. Heck, I would and I’m in my 30s!!
Model asking and answering questions with puppets, dolls, action figures, etc. talk. Have the puppets, dolls, whatever have you talk to each other and ask each other questions. Anything and everything can be learning opportunities. Take it a step farther and model some of the above techniques with the toys.
Play Go Fish. Use picture cards to play this game. You and your child can start with the basics by simply asking, “Do you have a cat?” or you can increase the complexity by saying, “Do you have something that has whiskers and says ‘meow’?”
Interactive apps and cartoons. I believe that actual human interaction is the most effective for teaching children new concepts, but media, however, is often a part of our kids’ everyday lives. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is a good example of a cartoon that asks questions, inserts a pause, and then provides the answer. This show often provides visuals as well, which makes it easier to comprehend the questions.
Books. Read a book and ask questions about what you are reading. Another option is flipping through the book and looking at the pictures while talking about them and dropping questions in now and then.
Hope you all found this helpful and relatable! If you have any questions or would like for me to create a post that is more specifically related to your child, please leave a comment below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will do my best to create a post, with no names mentioned of course.
Disclaimer Statement: I am a speech-language pathologist, but my blog posts are not intended to replace a speech-language evaluation or speech-language therapy services. They are, however, intended to help you help your little one. If you have any concerns whatsoever about your child’s speech or language, follow your gut instincts and get an evaluation!