Learning Language through Natural Routines: Brushing Teeth

What’s more routine than something you do with your child at least once a day? In this article, you’ll find a few strategies to support language development while brushing your child’s teeth.

Pre-linguistic/Play Skills – Your child will use objects in appropriate play or self-care.

At toothbrushing time, bring a doll or stuffed animal into the bathroom. Let your child watch you pretend to brush the doll’s teeth. Then give the toothbrush to your child and see if he will pretend to brush the doll’s teeth. You can prompt by saying, “You brush baby’s teeth.” If he doesn’t respond to the verbal prompt, you can provide hand-over-hand assistance.

Receptive Language – Your child will follow two-step related commands.

At the beginning of the routine, give your child the instruction, “Get the toothpaste and open it.” If he is not able to follow the two-step command, give one part at at time. Tell your child to, “Get the toothpaste.” After he has completed that part, tell your child to, “Open the toothpaste.”  As always, you can provide a physical prompt by providing hand-over-hand assistance, if needed. Another two-step command you can give your child during this routine is, “Close the toothpaste and put it away.”

Expressive Language – Your child will use word combinations.

(This task assumes that your child already regularly uses single words without prompting.)

Allow your child the chance to brush his teeth either before or after you do it. Ask, “Whose turn is it first?” You are looking for a phrase like, “My turn,” “Daddy do,” or some other two-word combination appropriate to the situation. If your child responds with only one word, model a two-word phrase for him to repeat. If you need to use the words me or my when modeling the phrase to refer to your child, be sure to point to your child as you say it, so he will not think you are correcting whose turn it is. After the first person has had a turn, ask, “Now whose turn is it?” Model the desired phrase as needed.Toothbrushing

By adding any of these strategies to your toothbrushing routine, you’ll give your child extra practice with his developing language without having to invest a lot of extra time. The next article in this series will give you suggestions to foster language development during walks around your neighborhood.

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