How to Help Your Child Answer Yes and No
“Do you want ice cream?”, you ask – Your child stares back without responding… or responds with “no”, but then cries when you take the ice cream away… or, maybe your child repeats the question back to you (Caregiver: “Do you want ice cream?”…Child: ”Do you want ice cream?”)… Confusing, right? Who would’ve thought that those two simple words: “yes” and “no”, are so important to understanding what your child wants. Even more so, it is easy to forget that these two powerful words empower your child. If your child has not accumulated sufficient language to effectively communicate wants and needs, “yes” and “no” are golden words to reduce frustration.
Most children begin answering “yes” or “no” questions around 18-24 months; however, some children may be more delayed in effectively using these words. They may say “no” when they mean “yes”, or they may not use these words at all. Luckily, there are many useful tricks to use at home to promote this functional communication.
3 TIPS TO USE AT HOME
1) Begin with Nodding + Shaking Head
Some children may not be ready to verbalize the words “yes” or “no”, and may feel more comfortable using representational gestures. In this case, family members can model “yes” by nodding the head, and model “no” by shaking the head. For example, when you ask your child, “do you want a cookie?” (almost all children will say yes to a cookie!), as your child approaches to grab the cookie, model a nod while saying “YES, you want a cookie”. Before handing out the cookie, see if your child will imitate your head nod. In the same manner, model a head shake for “no” when it is obvious that your child does not want something (e.g., offering a dark green leafy vegetable is a common “no”!). Repetition is key until your child gets the hang of it. Not only will your child begin to communicate using yes/no, but your child will also understand that he/she needs to communicate in order to receive what is desired. It will promote language development overall.
2) Make it a fun and silly game
Ask concrete questions using real objects, making it fun and silly! Begin by modeling the game: grab an apple and ask, “is this a shoe?…Nooooooooo!… Is this a bird?… Nooooooo!… Is this an apple?… YES!”. If you have fun modeling this game and laughing along, your child will be engaged and want to participate. After modeling the game a few times, see if your child will begin answering the silly yes/no questions independently. At first, your child may need some help, but practice makes perfect.
3) Use Visual Symbols
If your child is not understanding yes/no questions, even after practicing head nods/shakes, it is definitely worth incorporating visual symbols. For example, a giant green check mark may be used to represent “yes” and a giant red X-mark may be used to represent “no”. The added visual support will reinforce the meaning, as some children, especially those with language delays/disorders, are predominantly visual learners. Every time your child wants something – (let’s stick with the cookie example: “Do you want a cookie?”), have your child touch the “yes” symbol while verbalizing “YES, you want the cookie”, before letting him/her receive the cookie. You may need to help guiding your child’s hand to the correct symbol until your child gets the hang of it.
These tips require practice, repetition, and most of all – patience. If your child continues to display difficulties answering yes/no questions between 18-24 months, it is also always a good idea to receive a full speech-language evaluation to determine why your child may be having difficulties understanding/verbalizing “yes” or “no”. Your child may heavily benefit from speech therapy, helping him/her make connections with the outside world, using overall communication skills.
Written by: Andrea Scola, M.S., CCC-SLP, Exceptional Speech Therapy Blog Writer and Pediatric Speech Teletherapist