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Teaching children to answer basic YES/ NO questions

Updated: Jun 10


In typical development children begin to understand simple Yes/No questions early in life. "Do you want this?" is one of the most commonly used such questions caregivers ask their young communicators throughout the day. Once comprehension is established, children are able to verbally express their preferences with short but powerful words- Yes and No.


In the long run, the ability to answer Yes/No questions also helps tremendously with empowering the child with a much needed sense of independence. Because who doesn't feel empowered when we get to make our very own choice? And yes, this holds true even for the very young minds. Bottom line- more choices means fewer tantrums (think toddler years!)


So what do you do if you notice that toward the second birthday your little one still doesn't seem to have a way to indicate Yes/No even nonverbally (e.g. pushing the offered item away, grunting, or, reaching for the desired item)? In that case, the developing mind might need a little help learning to respond to Yes/No questions.


How do you teach this exactly? The short answer is in small steps. Below find some of my true and tried simple steps to target the skill. You too can do this to help support your child's ability to indicate YES and NO at home or in therapy today:


1. When appropriate to context, ask the question "Do you want ____?" (fill in the blank) and pause.


2. Wait expectantly and ask this question again while holding the object of mention.


3. If you suspect your child is getting upset and is wanting the item but is unable to express this effectively- start modeling a head nod for YES and a head shake for NO.


* Of course, you want to model these communicative behaviors only when it makes sense situationally (when it's appropriate to context). And yes, it is okay if the words aren't coming out just yet. Initially we just want to give the child some functional way to respond to us and sort out what it is they want and what it is they don't. You will always pair these nonverbal signals (the head nod for Yes/ head shake for No) with words; however the child may first learn to communicate with their body language before producing verbal responses.


4. Finally, as the child is able to answer your question with a Yes or a No, immediately demonstrate that you understood this by either handing the desired item out or retrieving it away.


5. Repeat across all communicative and play contexts with all family members. Practice will make it perfect!


Please note that the ability to answer informational Yes/No questions emerges later. Examples of some of the informational Yes/No questions would be: Is this a cow or a sheep? Is that red or green? Is he eating? This question form requires a bit more developed receptive language and world knowledge. I will talk about teaching to answer this form of Yes/No questions in another post.


Thanks for reading and happy talking!

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