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Looking to Get an Answer; Wh- Question Development and Problem Solving

Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

Answering questions is a very challenging task for our little ones with language challenges. Often we see our little ones avoid them by turning away, changing the subject and appearing to ignore us. However, most likely he is not ignoring you; he's simply confused about how to respond.

Questions are used to gather information and that type of information is hinted in the question (Who? for a person; Where? for a place; etc.). However, our children with language challenges are working hard to comprehend each word in that question, never mind putting it all together and recalling the answer for us. It's important we keep our questions short and with pauses for auditory "catch up".

There's a developmental pattern to answering wh- questions as well. We first learn to answer "What" as a labeling task, for example "What is that?" and "What is the dog doing?". Then, we develop our ability to answer "Where" for items and activities that are currently happening. In this first group, we also learn "Who" usually with our close relatives, then for more abstract or distant people. Notice any patterns here? These questions all pertain to what's happening in the current environment, in this moment.

After our what, where and who, we start to realize and appreciate the passage of time. Our ability to answer and understand the concept of "When" emerges. We are starting to sequence simple "first, then" and "now, later" ideas. This starts to emerge around age 3 1/2 as we begin to realize there is a world outside of ourselves and this current moment. Children will show more experimentation as they want to explore the before's and after's in this world; testing the rules of cause and effect. "I wonder what will happen when I..."

This experimentation leads itself to our "how" and "why" questions. Our problem solving is becoming more complex and we want to know why our solution doesn't work and how to make it work. We're attempting to find multiple solutions when something doesn't work out as planned and we're practicing logical thinking to rationalize a better solution.

It only makes sense that our question development goes hand-in-hand with our problem solving. Initially, we are focusing on learning the present moment around us- What is that thing? Where is my ball? Who is hiding behind mom? Our brain comes comfortable with the current surroundings, we realize there's a world outside of us- When do I get some candy? When is Bobby visiting again? When will Peppa Pig be on? Then, we try to rationalize to make our own needs met- Why can't I have candy now? How can we watch Peppa Pig now?

It's important to understand our child's question development before we expect them to answer our questions. It's a good rule of thumb to give before you expect, so therefor if you expect your child to answer your "why" questions, you must first answer theirs. Sometimes they do not realize they even have a question! Watch your child's expressions and behaviors... Are they looking for something? Did someone new just enter the room? When you see that spark of curiosity, use the question you think your child would ask- "Where is that ball?" or "Who is that?" while emphasizing the keywords. Do not expect an answer, you're simply modeling and putting words to your child's thoughts.

The more we step back and think about our child's problem solving in relation to answering questions, the better we can understand what to expect. Also, keep in mind their auditory memory skills. If they are only able to use a 2 word sentence, they most likely can only answer a question that is 3 or less words long. Cut the filler and fluff words! We can improve grammar once we communicate better. Keep it simple and keep it current.

Check back later in the week for an activity focused on asking and answering questions.

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