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The Benefit of Modeling Without Expectation for Early Communicators

If your child has been in early intervention speech therapy for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard your SLP talk about “modeling” and “modeling without expectations.” This is often one of the first ways we change the communication environment for little ones, and it can make a huge impact in a child’s language development. However, even if you have heard your SLP talk about this strategy, sometimes it can be difficult to know the specific whats, whys, and hows of using this strategy.

So, what is modeling? And how do we model without expectation? Modeling language is simply saying language how your child would say it. You provide appropriate words and phrases, along with lots of repetition, and then provide wait time to see if your child will imitate. Often, modeling words or short phrases can replace some of the questions we ask children. For example, instead of saying “Do you want the car?” you could model “Wow, a car! I want a car!” In doing this, you provide an example of what your child might want to say so they are more likely to imitate you. Now, it can be tempting to model what you want your child to say, and then tell them “say ‘I want a car’” to encourage this. However, this puts more pressure on the child and may actually make them less likely to say it. This is where modeling without expectation comes in. When we model words and phrases for a child, we can leave pause time and space for them to imitate us, but we don’t expect them to.

Now, let’s talk about why we use this strategy, and how it can encourage communication. Telling your child “Say ____” or frequently asking questions can add a lot of pressure to a child’s communication and may make them shut down or be less likely to imitate or use language. Being asked questions can be overwhelming for children and may make communication more about answering “correctly” or saying what you want them to say rather than using communication to connect with others.

Children use whatever forms of communication they can to get their wants and needs across to others, and often, that is not initially verbal communication. When a child points or reaches for something, they may not know or be able to say the word, so instead of putting pressure on them to say it, it is often more beneficial to model it several times for them (Oh you want a banana! Let’s go get a banana. First we need to peel the banana. Here’s the banana for you! Mmm, yummy banana!), which gives them multiple opportunities to hear and learn the word while reinforcing their current communication of reaching or pointing and building a stronger connection between you and the child.

There are several different types of modeling that can be used throughout your daily routines:

  • The first one is self-talk: this is where you model and narrate what you are doing, such as “I’m going down the stairs, down, down, down” or “Let’s get ready to go. I have to put my socks on, my shoes on, and my coat on! Now I’m ready!


  • Similarly, parallel talk describes and narrates what the child is doing, such as “You found a new book, let’s read it!” or “Your car is driving so fast. Look at it go!”


  • Once your child is using more words and phrases you can add recasting and expansion to your speech strategy toolbox by repeating back what they say with correct grammar and pronunciation and adding more words to their phrases. This strategy can be particularly helpful if your child has grammar errors or is working on building longer utterances. Instead of telling them to change what they say, it can be more effective to simply model the correct phrases.