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Help Your Child Understand and Learn to Ask Questions

asking questions

Being able to understand question forms and being able to ask questions is an essential part of language development. It's the way we give and get information about our world. Questions lay the foundation for children to participate in conversations, demonstrate their knowledge and gather information.

Children with language delays generally have difficulty asking questions as well as answering questions and giving information. Below you will find some tips on how you can help your child learn to both understand and answer questions and also how to ask questions to gain information.

First, however it is important for you as a parent or caregiver to understand basic age guidelines for both asking and answering questions so that you guide your expectations accordingly. Please understand that if your child has a language delay these age guidelines will be lower depending on the severity of the language impairment.

Age Guidelines for Understanding/Answering Questions:

1-2 years understands "What's this?" and simple "Yes/No"
2-3 years understands "What doing?" ("What are you doing?")
understands simple "Who?" ("Who's that?")
understands simple "Where?" ("Where is daddy?")
understands simple "What" (function)? ("What do you do with a toothbrush?")
3-4 years understands simple "How?" ("How did you do that?")
understands simple "Why?" ("Why is he crying?")
understands simple "What…if?", "How many/much?" and "which?"
4-5 years understands "When?"
5-6 years understands most questions, but will still have trouble with complex and abstract questions.

A child's ability to understand and answer questions appropriately develops gradually. By including your child in conversation as much as possible you are providing a good model for your child of rich language including question forms. Is it not necessary for an adult however, to dominate the conversation with questions - both questions and comments are important. Modeling the answer is important as well, especially if you're not sure your child is understanding the question.

Here are some tips for helping your child answer questions:

  • Make sure you have your child's attention before asking a question
  • Include your child in as many conversations as possible
  • Use as many comments as questions during your conversation
  • Allow time for your child to think and respond to your question
  • Make your child feel successful by asking the types of questions you know he can answer
  • Model the answer if you think your child doesn't understand
  • Ask simple questions while reading to your child ("What is that?", "Who is crying?", "What is she doing?", "Why did he do that?"…)
  • Relate questions from a story back to your child's day ("She went to the store." "Where did you go today?")
  • Ask questions by recapping events from your child's day
  • Use visual cues if necessary to help your child understand

Age Guidelines for Asking Questions:

2 years        yes/no        "Johnny go?"
2 years        What           "What's that?"
3 years        Where          "Where's daddy?"
3 years        Who            "Who's that?"
4-5 yrs       Why             "Why is she crying?"
4-5 yrs       How            "How does that go in there?"
5-6 yrs       When           "When is daddy coming home?"

Asking questions is a way for us to gain information. Some children have difficulty asking questions. This could be because 1) they don't have the thinking skills to successfully request information, 2) they don't know how to put words together to form questions, or 3) they don't know how to ask questions to get the right information from their listener.

Here are some tips for helping your child ask questions:

  • Give your child your full attention when he is trying to ask a question
  • Be patient if your child is struggling putting thoughts into word
  • If your child's word order is not correct for asking a question, model the correct word order
  • As you're doing activities with your child, talk about what you're doing as you do it and "think" out loud asking and answering your own questions ("Where does this piece go?" - "Oh, it goes right here.")
  • Engaging with your child in interesting activities will stimulate your child wanting to learn more
  • Play games with your child where you ask him a question and then he has to ask you a similar question

Your child’s understanding and formulation of questions lays a foundation for developing skills in all areas of communication and processing information in his environment. Parents and caregivers have endless opportunities to give children practice in questioning and answering techniques. The mastery of answering and asking questions is invaluable to the early learner.

Filed under Expressive Language, Language Development, Other Milestones, Receptive Language by Tami

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Comments on Help Your Child Understand and Learn to Ask Questions »

October 30, 2009

Dorothy Rimson @ 3:03 am

surprised that many mom's don't know this

November 18, 2009

Graham @ 1:07 pm

Just found your site today. You have some excellent resources - really useful. I'm a speech therapist from the UK and this site is a great example.

Many thanks!

Tami @ 6:31 pm

Thank you Graham for your nice comment. I like your site as well. There is some great information on there. I would love to refer to your site from time to time within my articles. Maybe you could do the same.


November 19, 2009

Graham @ 12:31 pm

Hello Tami! Many thanks! Yes, that would be good - I'd be happy to recommend your site and refer to your articles. I think it's so helpful to have this variety of information available to help people. The speech therapy p[rofession here in the UK is very differnt but the needs of our clients are essentially the same, no matter where they live. Kind Regards!


January 9, 2010

Sue @ 7:28 am

I found an interactive software which helps to improve
speech delayed problems and help build vocabulary on toddlers
and young children with special needs. SeeMe SPEECH COACH
has been very effective in the learning process of the children. I hope you give it a try and share it with others too.

March 6, 2010

islamiyet @ 12:04 pm

surprised that many mom's don't know this :)

September 23, 2010

semar media @ 11:04 pm

Can't be said much better. After reading this entry it hit me that my roommate was just like this! He never stopped kept talking about this kind of stuff. I will forward this article to him. I'm pretty sure he will love it. Thanks once again for showing this.

November 17, 2010

Sonia @ 2:01 pm

The problem I have with my child is that we are bilingual but she is not forming sentences in any of the languages. She only say 1 word as a sentence and does not understand questions. She goes to school where only english is spoken she is in pre-k and is 5 years old. Should I see a speech therapist or give her more time to develop language?

January 26, 2011

Archana @ 10:53 am

Excellent Tips to me for my girls…
Very very informative.
Thanks A Lot

May 31, 2011

Ramsuchit @ 7:48 am

My 6 1/2 year old daughter is having problem articulating her speech fully and at time I think she does not understands fully as well

Pls call me at 201-427-8125 for further discussion

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