To become an effective communicator, your child must first develop the necessary pre-linguistic skills. The key to developing these skills lies in giving your child opportunities to communicate and making it fun.

1. Let your child show you what he or she wants

If your child wants something and is trying to communicate what he or she wants, wait 5 seconds before deciding what is wanted. Let him/her show you. This can be done through pointing or using simple vocabulary (i.e. “milk”, “car”, “toy”, etc.). After your child attempts to show you what they want, you can begin modeling ways to communicate. For example, “you want the milk” – emphasize the key word “milk” slightly.

2. Play games (Social games/People games)

Play games with your child. Social games that involve other people are great for developing pre-linguistic skills. The types of games played should have many turns and a simple routine that can be repeated. Typically, there should be a non-verbal back and forth exchange between you and your child. For example, take turns doing a movement or moving pieces/objects.

These games help develop:

  • Intent
  • Shared enjoyment
  • Turn taking skills

Examples of games: ‘Round & Round the Garden’ and ‘chase/tickle’

*Tip: Wait between turns or repetitions of the game. This can create a communication opportunity for your child to initiate or let you know they want to continue playing.

3. Gentle Sabotage

This involves changing up a routine or mixing up something predictable to your child. The goal is to have your child react to the change. This creates a communication opportunity for your child to let you know that they think something is different.

Example of gentle sabotage: Hand your child a hat instead of a towel to dry off.

4. Bit by Bit

Like gentle sabotage, a routine is slightly changed. With Bit by Bit, when your child expects more than one of something, you give them only one while keeping the rest of the items in view. This creates a communication opportunity for your child to let you know that they want more or all.

Examples of Bit by Bit: Instead of giving your child all of the cookies in their snack, give just one while keeping the rest in view. Instead of giving all the Lego blocks, give just one while keeping the rest in view.

5. Choices

Choices are empowering for your child. They will feel empowered by their communication because when they clearly communicate they want something, they will receive it. Give your child choices of objects to have or play with. (Note: make sure that you are okay with either choice). Let your child choose which object your child wants. This creates a communication opportunity for your child to let you know their choice.

Example of Choices: Hold two toys up to your face and say what each toy is (labeling). Let your child communicate which toy they want in any way they choose (i.e. pointing, eye gaze towards the preferred toy, imitation of the label, etc.)

These strategies are great options for developing pre-linguistic skills. Try them at home. I hope this helps.

Thank you for reading. Please share this article, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information about speech, language, speech therapy and other topics please visit us at The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada.

With kind regards,

Jeanette Podolsky BA (Speech and Hearing Therapy) Wits. Reg. CASLPO
Clinical Director
Speech Therapy Centres of Canada


Pepper, J., & Weitzman, E. (2004). It takes two to talk. (3rd ed.). Toronto: The Hanen Centre.

Sussman, F. (2012). More than words. (2nd ed.). Toronto: The Hanen Centre.