Suggestions for Improving Behavior of Children With Language Delays

Sheena L. Carter, Ph.D.

Much of the "misbehavior" of young children is the result of not fully understanding what is expected of them. This can be improved by using the following techniques:

  • Make sure to have eye-contact with the child when giving an instruction.
  • Keep instructions as simple as possible, using as few words as necessary.
  • Always give instructions in a clear, strong voice.
  • Give each instruction as a statement, not in a questioning voice (e.g., say "Pick up that doll,"  not "Will you pick the doll up?").
  • Use clear gestures to show the child what you mean (e.g., point to the doll as you speak).
  • Say what the child SHOULD do, not what NOT to do. (e.g., say "Put the doll in the toy box." instead of "Don’t leave the doll on the floor." and say "STOP!" instead of "Don’t run!") Positive statements are generally easier to understand. Also, young children tend to act on what they heard last, and may not think about the "Don’t" at the beginning of your sentence until they have already acted on the last part of what you said.
  • Establish a few firm rules that your child can understand. Decide which rules are most important to you, and make sure that your child understands them. Repeat the rules often, and praise the child for obeying them. Let the child know immediately when one of these rules has been broken. Do not change the rules from day to day, but add rules gradually as the child seems to be able to keep them well. If your child needs to be punished more than a few times per day, this may be an indication that you are expecting a little too much, and you should remove the most difficult rules until the child can master the easier rules.
  • Remember that rewarding a child’s good behavior is MUCH more effective in teaching good behavior than punishing bad behavior. Reward has the added advantage of helping a child feel good about himself; whereas, punishment tends to make a child feel bad about himself and resentful toward you.

© 1998, 2001 Copyright Sheena L. Carter, Ph.D.