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  • Writer's pictureChattykiddo

My child isn't listening! Here is why

If a parent tells me their child can answer questions- that does not necessarily give me much information clinically for two reasons: 1. questions vary greatly in structure, content and length and 2. some questions are familiar (or routine as we call them) while others are more situationally novel.

In this post let us focus on the various what- questions you may be asking your child throughout the day and why sometimes children may seem like they are "ignoring" us.

What's that? What do you want? What do you want for breakfast? What should we wear to the playground today? and so on. Are you noticing how these questions differ? Yes- the first question is very short while the last one is the longest. Which do you think are easier to understand? Yes- the shorter ones. However, all these are variations of the 'what' question form because at the heart of each question is the WHAT (which obviously calls for a noun answer). Of course, there are variations to the where, who, why, and when questions too!

So why is it important to be mindful of the type of questions we ask when talking to young children, especially with language delays? Well, if your child is already struggling with understanding language and your questions- that's one reason to think about how to aid that comprehension. Or, if, say, your child is over 3 years of age and appears to understand shorter in context questions but not longer questions that are more out of context and without any visual cues (e.g. what did you do in school today?). This difficulty might be a reason for concern as well.

But in general, to answer questions we must be able to first hear them fully, process them in our brain, and then hopefully understand ALL the words embedded in the question. Not always so easy, right?

Below is a sample hierarchy of wh- question forms I keep track of when evaluating a child's language comprehension. Children typically first understand short, "in the here and now" routine questions before they can grasp the longer and out of context ones (e.g. what are you going to do when you get to school?). Look at some examples below:


- What's this?

- What are you doing?

- What flavor cookie do you want?

- What do you want to drink today?

- What color shirt do you want to wear?

- What are we going to do at the park when we get there?

- What green and red vegetables are we having for dinner tonight?

See where I'm going with this? Yes- the more words (or language concepts) you include into your question the more challenging it becomes for your little listener to a) process this information b) remember all the words c) understand the meaning and come up with a relevant answer. There is then the issue of what kind of words (or language concepts) does the child NOT understand? This topic deserves to be a separate post. But just know limited comprehension of words (language concepts) too determines how well children answer questions.

So now that you know all about why question length matters- you too can tailor your questions to your child's development. And if you need a speech-language pathologist to help you do this- I am here for you.

Thanks for reading and happy talking!

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