Food can be a great motivator to teach your child to talk. At the same time, difficulty communicating specific wants and needs could also lead to a lot of frustration. This article will show you how to create an environment for your child to successfully be able to ask you for a snack.
Goal: Increase ability to request to eat specific snacks
Location: Kitchen; by the pantry, at the cabinets, or by the refrigerator
Items needed: A preferred snack
Before you start, place all snacks out of reach.
Teach Your Child to Ask for Snacks
The biggest missed opportunity I see regarding snacks in the home is that they are placed in an area where the child can reach them independently. If you are looking for ways to practice requesting and to teach your child to request specific snacks, place them out of reach so they need to come ask you.
If the child can easily access snacks throughout the day, there is much less opportunity to be able to use this situation as a teachable moment.
For the purpose of this activity let’s assume you are standing in front of the cabinet or refrigerator with the doors closed and the child on the ground.
Initial request; before they eat
Depending on the child’s level of development, here are some options for the next steps:
For children who are not yet talking
- Pretend you’re not sure what they want, and model by saying and signing exactly what you want them to say (“Eat!”). Don’t quiz them (“tell me what you want”).
- If you are unsure what they want, you can hold them up and have them reach/point. (If this is too frustrating for them, see a modification you can try below)
- Once the specific snack is determined, take the bag and help the child say/sign (“give me”).
- As soon as their done signing “give me” hand them a small piece of the snack if possible, or hand them the bag to hold while you walk over to the table to sit and eat.
For children who are beginning to use sounds and words
- Pretend you’re not sure what they want, and model by saying and signing exactly what you want them to say (e.g. “Eat!”). Don’t quiz them (“tell me what you want”).
- If you are unsure what they want, you can hold them up and have them reach/point. Before picking them up say, “up” or “mama” 2-3 times to see if they will imitate.
- Take control of the desired snack and model the target word or sound 2-3 times, using a calm, sing-song voice before handing it to the child.
- After the 3rd time, or ANY attempt they make at vocalizing, give them the snack at the table.
If more support is needed, or if there are specific snacks your child loves that are hard for them to say, try this…
Using visuals to request a snack
- Place the snack in a separate zip lock back if necessary.
- Cut out the front of the bag or box that has a picture of the snack.
- Start with 2-4 preferred snacks/drinks in order not to overwhelm them child.
- Tape the pictures of the snacks to the refrigerator.
- Once you know what the child wants:
- name the item out loud
- help them point to the picture on the fridge
- immediately give them the snack so they make the connection between the what they just did, and the desired outcome
- Once the child becomes consistent with pointing to the picture to request, begin to place more of a demand on trying to sign/verbalize to request.
Here is a short video of what this would look like.
Snack time can be an excellent opportunity to practice requesting and labeling. Set your kitchen up in a way where you child has to ask you to get the snacks. Once they are out of reach, you can use snacks as a natural routine-based opportunity for your child to practice talking multiple times a day.
For more speech and language tips, follow Speech and Feeding Kids on YouTube.
About the Author
DRAKE HASTINGS M.S., CCC-SLP
Drake Hastings is a speech-language pathologist who specializes in speech, oral motor, and feeding therapy for kids. Drake has a passion for working with children and families while helping children achieve goals using a fun and motivating approach to learning.
Drake’s main areas of focus within the practice are feeding therapy, and speech (sound production) therapy. Drake has experience working with children who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Apraxia of Speech, Dysarthria, Down Syndrome, and rare genetic disorders. Drake has experience working and collaborating with a wide variety of families and therapeutic team members while treating children of all ages.