Using the ladder approach to modeling expressive language (the words that we use) is a wonderful way to increase language in a motivating way for a child.

Parents often are misinformed and model language for everything we see in the environment. While this can be a great technique to show a child language, it can be overwhelming for the child. To help our child expand the language they are using we need to keep modeling at their level.

Climb the Ladder

Think of it this way: if you skip too many steps while climbing on a ladder you may fall. If we use too many words to model language for our child and it is above their current verbal level, they may be too overwhelmed to use new words or may avoid using language at all.

Stay One Step Ahead

Your child will use words in different ways depending on their motivation and familiarity with people, foods, and items! With the ladder approach we are always just one step ahead of them in each interaction, so your child will never feel overwhelmed.

So what does that look like? If a child does not say any words, we only say one word. If a child says one word, we say two words. If a child says two words, we say three words. When you do this, you are only one step ahead of your child.

Be Strategic

Think about what motivates your child and how you can help promote the language that they want to use at their level. If your child says, “cookie!” then you can say, “eat cookie!” to help give your child language.

You might notice that we left articles (a, the, etc.) in the examples above. Research shows that we can use grammatical utterances and your child will not be overwhelmed, so you don’t need to count these as a word and don’t worry if your child doesn’t imitate them.

Give it a try and let us know how this strategy works for you! All of our MeBe SLP’s use this approach in parent coaching and our own therapy sessions. We love it and so do our kiddos!

At MeBe, our Speech and Language Therapy team works with your family to make communicating verbally and nonverbally a positive experience, so your child can find their unique voice and make themselves understood. Contact us to learn more about Speech and Language Therapy at MeBe.

For helpful tips from our Speech Language Pathology team and to see examples of using the ladder approach to increase language, check out @mebefamily on Instagram and Facebook and visit the MeBe Family YouTube channel.