I had a consultation with a Mom the other day who wanted to help her 13 year old son develop more spontaneous language (this might be a goal you have for your child as well).

Great Goal. The question is- how the heck do you achieve that goal?

There is one thing I see parents and professionals do all the time that I want to help you avoid (doing this creates a road block in your child’s communication development  and can cause unnecessary frustration for parent and child).

Here is the one thing to avoid doing: Expecting your child to produce a communication skill they do not understand themselves yet.

Here’s what I mean: Can you imagine trying to teach a child to write before they have even learned how to read?

Of course not- how can a child produce the written word when they do not yet relate to or understand the written word?

Well, communication development works in exactly the same way.

Yet time and time again I see folks pursuing this goal backwards: asking a child to produce a communication skill before s/he has demonstrated comprehension of this skill.

This is what I mean when I talk about ‘stepping stone skills”-  skills your child needs to acquire before he can achieve a broader communication goal.

The one easy way to apply a simple “stepping stone skill”  is what I call “UP”:

Understand- make sure your child demonstrates a consistent understanding of the skill you want your child to achieve and then…..

Produce– invite your child to produce this skill.

By focusing on understanding first before you focus on production- you help your child move UP the rungs of the communication ladder with confidence and success (As you may have heard me say, “success builds confidence and confidence builds more success”).

So how you do you apply the “UP” theory for your child?

To answer this question I have listed my 5 stages of communication development (and how you would apply the “UP” idea to each stage):

Stage 1: “Getting Needs met part I”

Goal:Child using partial words/single words to get needs met.

***Applying the “UP”: Make sure your child understands a word before you expect him/her to produce the word. You can do this with simple 1 step directions.  For example you can ask your child to “Bring me the bubbles” in order to blow more bubbles for him and only once he has demonstrated consistent understanding of what ‘bubbles’ are (by bringing it to you)  would you focus on your child producing the sound/word.

Stage 2:”Getting Needs Met Part II”

Goal: Using 2-3 word sentences to get needs met

***Applying the “UP”: Make sure your child understands a 2-3 word sentence  before you focus on your child producing the 2-3 word combination. You can do this with 1 step directions that include a verb/noun combination.  For example you can ask your child to “Roll you the ball”.  Once he has demonstrated consistent understanding of what ‘Roll the ball’ means (versus throw or bounce the ball) then you could focus on your child producing the 2-3 word combination.

Stage 3: “Functional Conversational Loops”

Goal: 1-2 loop conversation to get needs met or answer fact based questions

***Applying the “UP”: Before you focus on your child asking YOU questions in a conversation, you want to first make sure he understands what it means to answer a choice question to get his needs met such as asking “Do you want an apple or a banana?”. Having consistent understating and ability to answer this question precedes his ability to ask you a question.

Stage 4: “Expressive Conversation”

Goal:Expressing unique curiosity, experiences and understanding

Applying the “UP”: This is linked to stage 3.  Your child demonstrating consistent understanding in answering a “what?” question will precede his ability to ask this question to express his unique curiosity, like “what is this?”.  Before focusing on your child expressing/producing these questions, make sure he understands the question by knowing how to answer it first.

Stage 5: “Emotive Conversation”

Goal: Expressing feelings, sharing and seeking personal information

Applying the “UP”: Your child demonstrating a consistent understanding and ability in answering personal questions, such as “Who do you like to play with?” will precede his ability to seek this information from others and ask them “Who do you like to play with?” Focus on this first.

Remember, it goes back to the idea of learning how to read before learning how to write.  Your child can only produce what he understands and relates to first- this is one primary ‘stepping stone skill’ that I focus on with my clients.

Hungry for more?  I have so much to share about communication development  and since this is the one area that families consistently want help with most, I am sure you  would love more.


I will be giving  a FREE “Create Communication Breakthroughs” training call on  Tuesday, October 1st (11am PST/2pm EST).  Doors open next week so stay tuned for more details. This training will be packed with critical tools and strategies.

But wait- before you go- join the conversation below!  What have you taken away from this article?  What are ways that you can apply “UP” with your child?