How to help your child when they’re feeling scared.

It’s no wonder our kids find some things scary. So much of it is new to them! Add to that a difficulty communicating or processing information information and children are bound to need a little extra help along the way.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we all have things that make us feel afraid. Thinking about our own fears helps us tune into how a child might be feeling in those tricky moments.

There’s lots of things we can do to help children understand and manage their fears. Here’s some practical ideas to get you started.

FEELING AFRAID? How to help your child when they're feeling scared.

Acknowledge the feelings. It’s easy for us to dismiss childhood fears and simply say ‘It’s not scary’, but the reality is that our kids are experiencing genuine fear and worry in the moment. We can help children by commenting on what’s happening and naming how the child might be feeling.

Give some control over the situation. When something is scary it can be reassuring to be in control of the pace: approach and then retreat. It can also be reassuring to have some choice over what happens. So, look for opportunities to let your child manage the pace or make choices about some of the details.

Talk about what’s scary. Being able to talk through the details, find out more information, ask questions is all helpful in getting more comfortable with new things.

Look for things that provide extra support. What are the things that might help your child to feel more comfortable? A particular toy? Maybe an intro visit before the big event?

Celebrate the tiny attempts. Noticing the tiny steps of progress, reminding ourselves how far we’ve come already is essential when progress feels slow.

Find a way to feel okay. If your child is too afraid to do some of the things you had planned, that can be hard and you matter too! Consider what might still make the situation enjoyable for you.

Want more?

Here’s some suggestions on managing big feelings.

How to teach turn-taking.

Helping children to answer questions

Do you find yourself asking your child lots of questions and never quite getting a reply? Getting children to answer the question is a common conundrum. Here’s five suggestions to help children answer questions.

Asking kids QUESTIONS... getting them to REPLY!

Do you really need to ask the question? When kids aren’t talking very much, it’s easy for us to get into quiz mode. But, there are more helpful things we can do to support language development. Let’s remember to give, not quiz. When a question pops into your head, try flipping it to a comment. Instead of asking ‘What’s that?’ you might say ‘Oh, it’s car!’ Instead of ‘What you doing?’ you might say ‘Wow, you’re jumping!’

If you know the answer, don’t ask the question. There’s huge value in us modelling language, rather than testing to see if a child can say the word. You’re still helping them learn when you model instead of ask the question. This also means that you can save your questions for things that you are genuinely curious about.

Flag the question. Our children have so much to pay attention to when they’re learning new skills. So, it can be easy for them to miss a question we want to ask them. Try giving your child a cue, like raising your hand and saying “I have a question!”

Choose your question carefully. Some questions are much harder than others. ‘Why’ questions are the very hardest to answer. For more information, check out this post on understanding question levels.

Give visual clues. If you’re asking your child to make a choice, then holding up the items is a useful way to help them understand and respond. Here’s more ideas for making language visual.

Pick a focus question. In speech and language therapy sessions, we’ll often pick a focus question, such as ‘who’ or ‘where’. These are important questions for developing language (here’s more information on teaching important ‘wh’ questions). Having a focus can help cue your child in and help you to come up with relevant questions in the moment.

Finally, embrace the awkward silence! Give your child quiet thinking time to process your question and consider their response. Avoid the temptation to dive in and repeat or rephrase the question. Give it time, allow for the pause.

Did I miss anything? Let me know your ideas for using questions in the comments below.

Teaching story sentences

Stories are such a fun part of learning to talk. Once a child can share simple stories a whole new world opens up! We can help children build up to telling simple stories by teaching them the elements of a basic sentence: Who, What and Where.

In this video you’ll learn the makaton for these ‘wh’ words and a little more about why it’s useful to emphasise these words when we’re talking with young children.

Help your toddler tell SIMPLE STORIES

If your child isn’t talking in full sentences yet, then check out these ideas to help them start joining words together.

Of course, books are a great way to teach children these key who/what/where elements. Check out this post with ideas for sharing books with your little one.

6 Practical Steps to Raising a Resilient Child

I still vividly remember my first ‘Draw a Christmas Card’ competition at primary school. I had such a grand vision in my head, but my finished picture looked nothing like it. I was so disappointed that I declared myself A Bad Drawer.

Now, decades on, I have a different mindset. I merrily doodle my way through the day. In speech therapy sessions with children, I’ll often end up drawing Potato Heads, playgrounds or whatever else crops up in our chats together.

So, what’s changed? Partly, it’s the great attention that children give for even the simplest of drawings. But it’s also my desire to model to children how we can be ‘bad’ at something and still ‘have a go’ and enjoy the process.

As a Speech and Language Therapist, I’m regularly asking children to try things they find tricky. An essential part of this is helping them see mistakes as part of the process of learning, rather than something to be avoided.

There’s vulnerability that comes with having a go and knowing we might get something wrong. It’s a hard skill for us adults too. We do plenty to stay comfy and only speak up if we’re pretty sure we’re ‘right’. But how powerful it would be if we taught the next generation that it’s not about being right but about trying our best and learning as we go.

Here’s six suggestions to nurture resilience in children:

Model your own ’emotion-free mistakes’

This idea comes from Angela Duckworth’s book, Grit, in which she points to the value of persistence over talent. Just like my bad drawings, you might look for an opportunity to visibly make a mistake and be ok with it. Children learn from our responses to situations. This ‘no big deal’ modelling helps our children learn that mistakes are nothing to be ashamed of.

Talk about mistakes as learning opportunities

Children demonstrate natural curiosity about the world and we can use this to encourage trial and error. So, we might respond to a situation with something like ‘Oh that didn’t go according to plan… how interesting!’ or as Carol Dweck would suggest, ‘That was tough, that was fun!’

Be specific in your praise

Instead of a generic ‘Well done!’, look for the thing that you want to celebrate. In speech therapy sessions I’m often saying ‘I love how you had a go!’ or ‘I saw you looking at my mouth to see how I made that sound’. This emphasis on process over product makes it safer for children to try things out.

Name your own emotions

When we name our own emotional responses to situations we show children how to do the same. Of course it’s frustrating when you can’t get your message across. And it’s disappointing when you try and fail. Helping children express this is part of how we help them to process and recover from mistakes, so they can be ready to take the next step.

Point out how we’re all working on skills

Humans never stop learning. What’s something tricky that you’re working on? Can you talk about your own practice? Can you point to other people who are practising things again and again? The skate park is always a great example of this in real time.

Tell stories of resilience

A quick search online will give you a wealth of great book suggestions for helping children develop a growth mindset. We all learn through stories and this is a fun way to talk together about challenge and persistence.

Our children are growing up in challenging times, at the intersection of many important and difficult conversations. Now more than ever we need a generation that is up for the challenge, willing to get stuck in to the mess of mistakes that we make whenever we do the hard work.

This article originally appeared on the I Can website.

PS. Interested in how I use doodles for speech therapy? Find out here.

Walk & Talk: speech and language activity ideas

There are so many excuses to practise speech, language and communication skills when we’re outside. It’s a time to listen for all the varied sounds around us and talk about what we can see and hear. For me, going on a walk always inspires the best conversations.

With a few simple starting points (and no kit required!) you can build speech and language activities into your next walk together. Here’s some ideas to get you started:

Walk and Talk: speech and language activities

Attention and listening

A listening walk is a great excuse to practise focused attention and descriptive language. We often think about doing this with very young children (‘Can you hear the birds?’ ‘Can you hear the wind..?’) but it’s a great exercise at any age. As children get older, we can explore descriptive language that painta the picture of what we hear and we can listen closely for the complex layers of sounds around us.

Music making

Pick up a stick and you have the beginnings of a rhythm game. We can play ‘stop and go’, take turns to make a sound or play ‘copy my rhythm’. Here’s some more ideas for listening games with sticks.

Conversation starters

Exploring the things that you find out on your walk is a great excuse for conversation. When you talk about the difference between things you find, you create a great excuse to practice descriptive vocabulary and a variety of linguistic concepts (big/small, full/empty, many/few etc etc.)

Finally, I love the idea of swapping ‘second-hand stories’. Tell me about a tv show, or a book that you read! This is a great excuse to practice summarising information (an important and often tricky skill) and an opportunity to ask clarifying questions to highlight the key pieces of information (e.g. the who, what, where, when details).

Regardless of what you talk about out on your walk, being out in nature is always a great time to share and connect with those we care about. I hope you have fun together.

Here’s a demo of some simple word games that you can play when you’re out on a walk.

Simple word games

Playing quick and informal word games with your child is a great habit to get into. No matter what age, we can use our knowledge about words sounds and word meanings to play around together. Word games help us practice word retention and retrieval (i.e. remembering a word and then recalling it later when we want to use it.)

There are loads of fab picture and paper resources for developing vocabulary, but that’s not what I’m sharing today. Instead, I’m sharing informal games you can play together with no kit required!

Word games for speech and language

Some ideas from this video:

I-Spy: A classic choice! A great excuse to develop sound awareness. Of course, you can start by naming the initial sound in words. (With younger children, do focus on the sound of the letter, rather than the name of the letter.) Then, you can work on other ‘sound elements’ of a word, e.g. ‘I spy something that rhymes with….’ or ‘I spy something with 2 syllables’.

The Clues Game: Similar to I-Spy, but with a focus on word meaning, instead of sounds. In this game, we’re giving simple clues about what an object does, where we might find it etc.

The ‘P’ Party: How many words can you think of that begin with ‘p’? This game works with a variety of ages, as you can ‘level up’ with more abstract and complex vocabulary. It’s a good one for the competitive folks out there, as you battle to take turns and think of yet another word to add to the list. Of course, it doesn’t have to be ‘p’; pick any letter you like, or even a blend (e.g. words that start with ‘br’ or ‘pl’ or ‘sk’)

5 Things: In this game we’re aiming to name things within a a specific category. Can you name 5 animals, 5 things we eat, 5 things that you might see on a walk, 5 squishy things, 5 people in our community who help us..? The list is endless! This is useful for helping children understand how things can be organised by group. And you can increase the challenge by thinking of more unusual categories.

Guess That Acronym! Our world is littered with acronyms, so there’s plenty of opportunities on roadsigns, magazines or elsewhere to try to guess what each letter of the acronym stands for. (E.g. do you know what SaLT stands for?)

The Alphabet Game: This game explores both the meaning and sounds in words, as we nominate a category and then take turns to give a word that fits in the category and also begins with the next letter in the alphabet (e.g. Aardvark, Bear, Cow, Deer….)

If you’re interested in more quick-and-easy ways to support your child’s vocabulary skills, then check out this post with ideas for teaching words on the go.

How to encourage more words: toddler talking tips

This has to be the question I’m asked most often by parents: How do I get my toddler to say that word?! Perhaps you’ve heard them use a word once or twice, but when you ask them to say it again there’s no reply. So what can we do? In this video I share a few suggestions to shift that focus and support your child’s communication.

How to encourage more words: toddler talking tips

When children are just starting to talk, it’s really helpful to shift the focus from a child saying a word lots of times to hearing that word lots of times. Pick a handful of core words that you and the other people around your child can focus on modelling whenever possible. And use lots of big gestures when you’re modelling those key words. This way, your child can join in with your gesture, even if they’re not yet confident in saying the word themselves. Here’s a video all about using gestures.

It’s also useful to leave nice long pauses in your talk, so that if your child does know the word they might chime in and fill that gap for you. And if they’re not sure of the word, no problem, you can simply finish the sentence yourself.

What words does your child show an interest in? Here’s five first words that I often focus on with children that come to see me for speech and language therapy sessions.

Emotional literacy: 3 top tips

As our children return to school after this long unusual break, we’re thinking a lot about what’s most important for their learning and development. Living through the uncertainty of this global pandemic has created a whole raft of challenges. I’ve certainly felt the emotional strain of it, and I know I’m not alone.

In online therapy sessions with children I’ve seen how they too feel the weight of worry and confusion. Even for my children working on simple speech targets, we’ve had to also dedicate time to explore the bigger picture and help them express their worries. None of us can focus, learn and progress if we aren’t also able to be honest about the things weighing on our hearts.

In this video, I share some of the ways I’ve been approaching these conversations with children, including some practical tips for actively teaching emotional vocabulary.

How we can help children with their emotional understanding

Sharing how we’re feeling is a huge act of bravery! So, I just want to honour you if you’re engaging in this with your own kids or the pupils in your class. It’s no easy thing to create a safe space for people to be able to share their honest thoughts. Check out this blog post for more thoughts on how we can dig into uncomfortable conversations.

Help your child listen and focus

Paying attention is no easy task! We all have times when we feel distracted. And right now, as we adjust to new routines amidst unsettling global challenges, we have to be a little kinder to ourselves. It’s likely that we’re not able to get as much done as we ordinarily would. This applies to us ‘grown-ups’ and to our kids.

When we understand more about how children develop their attention skills, it’s easier to support their development in a compassionate way. In this video I share a little about what’s involved in paying attention and some of the shifts that have helped me to support children with this important skill for learning and for life.

Help your child LISTEN and FOCUS

In this video I mention the Toddler Talk programme, which I’m currently running with a group of parents who signed up. It’s been wonderful to run this as a group project and I’ll share more on that later (so watch this space!)

For now, you might like to check out this post about my favourite props for developing attention for adult-led activities.