Helping or Hurting?

by Julie

My nephew is almost 3 and undergoing speech therapy several times per week, for speech delay attributed to hearing problems (frequent/severe ear infections).

My sister gives me specific instructions on how to play with him like the speech therapist does, and gets upset when I stack the play food like blocks or have the zoo animals fight and slide off the table.

She wants me to stick to the prescribed pretend play like "Does the giraffe wants some grapes? Yes he does, yum yum yum."

She thinks my less structured play is not helping his speech at all, and may even hold him back, but I am always very careful to talk and interact with him one-on-one, reading together, asking him questions, encouraging him to tell me what he wants to do in words etc.

He always seeks out my company, seems to enjoy my rowdy play (which my sister dislikes) and is talking more.

Last time, I had him up on my shoulders and was bouncing around clucking like a chicken -- then I would say "Tell me another animal" and he would make a different animal sound and I would bounce him around mooing like a cow, and so on.

I think my sister is just anxious to help him progress quickly, but I am not convinced that my style of play is unhelpful or even harmful.

I would appreciate your feedback!

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Aug 31, 2015

by: R Lucas


Your "natural" way of playing is absolutely OK.

I understand your sister's concern of wanting to help him talk.

There are specific strategies and structure that encourage language development. These are effective strategies that SLPs use and teach parents to use.

They work, however, so does unstructured. If your sister is constantly doing structured, there is no harm in you doing unstructured play therapy as long as you are building on what he knows.

It sounds like that is what you're doing.

You mention that she wants you to "stick to the prescribed pretend play like 'Does the giraffe wants some grapes? Yes he does, yum yum yum.' "

I'm hoping that the "prescribed pretend play" doesn't consist of just asking questions all the time because that is less effective than doing what we call parallel talk and self-talk.

The best thing that you and your sister can do is simply talk about what you are doing all the time.

Narrate everything you do.

For example (when setting the table):

I'm getting the plates. I have the cups. I'm putting the cups on the table. I have the forks. I'm getting the food now.

And so on.

I assure you there is nothing harmful with "rowdy play". In fact it sounds like your nephew enjoys it since he seeks you out as you mentioned.

One suggestion is when you say "Tell me another animal" and he makes a sound, say the name of that animal as many times as you can.

For example: Oooooh, you want me to say a cow sound. Cows go Moo. Cows are black and white. Cows give us milk. Cows live on a farm. Cows eat salt etc.

It can be overkill and it's up to you how much or little you want to say but children's ability to learn language is based a lot on exposure to words.

I hope this helps.


Luke Barber M.S. CCC-SLP

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