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Question and Answer- Cultivate Conversational Turn Taking Skills In Your Toddler

Do you ever feel like you are talking to a brick wall? As parents, we often feel like the things we tell our children go in one ear and out the other. “Look here, look at mommy!”  “What do you want to eat?”is something I said repetitively this weekend when talking with my daughter. What I said to my almost 2 year old fell on deaf ears. Sometimes this lack of acknowledgement comes from a behavioral place; she is too interested in her surroundings to answer me.  Other times it may come from a place of confusion, she heard me, but did she understand me? 

As children develop communication, they learn the turn-taking exchange of language necessary to become skilled communicators. Inflection denotes a question or exclamation, tones indicate happiness or frustration. A question requires a specific response. Engaging in conversation requires yet a different type of response. How do kids learn turn-taking AND implement this skill in everyday life? Well Mommas, we model it! 

You are your child’s primary model for language. This holds true for most every area of language – be it articulation, fluency, expressive language, grammar, or social communication. When your child needs a push to develop her language skills, the support you provide is impactful. If you want to end the ‘talking to a brick wall’ phase, then keep reading. 

What can you do to elicit an appropriate response from your child?

  1. Get Your Child’s Attention. When speaking to your child, make sure you have her attention. As adults, we experience this all the time – you lean over to ask a coworker a question but he is scrolling on his phone and doesn’t even realize you asked a question. Or, he is only half-listening and misses important information needed to respond appropriately. When we talk to children who are still learning language, they need to be attentive to the question in order to process it. Mommas, don’t stop there. Model this behavior when your child talks to you – put down the phone, turn off the radio, and demonstrate what it looks like to give your child undivided attention. 
  • Get Down to Eye Level. I remember learning this early on in life during a Red Cross Babysitting course. It still holds true today. Lowering your body to your child’s level and making direct eye contact can help your child perceive the question being asked.
  • Wait for a Response. After you have commented/asked your child a question, give her time to process your question and respond. If your child is being asked to make a choice, she may need more time to select her answer than an adult would.  A good rule of thumb is to count to 10 before speaking. This allows enough time for your child to process the question, but not so much that she forgets the question. 
  • Repeat/Clarify the Question. Once the appropriate amount of time has passed with no response,repeat the question to your child. If she seems confused by the question, restate your question using different vocabulary.
Photo by Josh Willink
  • Model an Acceptable Response.  When your child still cannot formulate a response, offer a model. If you asked “What do you want for lunch?” and followed the steps above with no success eliciting a response from your child, model a response such as “Mom is going to have a chicken sandwich. Now, what do you want for lunch?” By modeling, you have taken the pressure off your child and provided an example of an appropriate response. Then, repeat the question and wait for your child’s answer. 
  • Require A Response. If all else fails, verbalize a response and have your child repeat it after you. You can say “I want a PB&J sandwich”  and have her verbalize as much of that phrase as she can. If she only says a few words, then a simple “PB&J” or “sandwich” will suffice. Always end the exchange by requiring some kind of verbal response from your child. 

By using the steps above to elicit an appropriate response, your child will begin to develop the skills necessary to engage in conversational  turn-taking. Soon, she will be answering all kinds of questions!


Published by Bethany Z

Hi there! Thanks for stopping by. I am a Christian, wife, mom, and speech language pathologist. I started this site out of a desire bridge the gap between a traditional therapy setting and the home setting. Parents are the most powerful influencers in a child's developement! My goal is to enable YOU to meet your childs speech needs while sharing glimpses of my life along the way.

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