Time to Talk: Helping Our Kids Explain

Helping Our Kids Explain

One of the classic cliches of the parent-child relationship is the question and answer, “What did you do today?” “Nothing.” Over the years, I have had so many parents ask if I could help them get some information from their children. I suggested that they think about the three types of questions (yes/no, wh-questions, and open-ended questions) and chose ones with easier answers. Open-ended answers are overly broad and require the most work. “What did you do today?” appears to be a wh-question (what, where, when, who, why, how), but it is actually an open-ended one. Asking what a child liked doing today and what they didn’t like doing today may create a structure that supports more conversation. So parents need choose their questions carefully. 

On my end, I teach kids explaining skills. For kids who have the hardest time explaining, I use the app Kid’s Journal (unfortunately not for sale in the U.S. right now). It helps them experience visually what others would like to know. First I take a photo of an activity the child is involved in that day and pop it in to the journal page. Then we go through each part to choose:

how they felt,
where they were,
what the weather was like, and
say something (I either transcribe or they type it in themselves) about the activity in the photo.

We can send it to parents, and later they can look together and talk some more about the day.

For more advanced kids, I teach them these steps to explain:

  1. Tell the listener what will be explained.
  2. Break it down into steps and arrange the steps in order.
  3. Say a clear sentence for each step.
  4. Make sure the listener understands the explanation.

Then I ask them to explain something each time we have a session until I am sure they have learned this skill. I especially like to introduce a child to a new app, then ask them to explain how it works to a friend or their parents using the four steps above.

The four steps are easy to make into a checklist. Checklists work especially well for kids with executive function difficulties, such as poor planning skills. After each step is complete, they check it off and move to the next step. Some kids have trouble generating steps of the explanation and may need to discuss or to literally act out the steps involved. Then we write them down as they act them out. If they need more time to formulate a sentence for each step, I can take photos of the steps they act out for them to ponder for a while.

Explanations are an important functional skill. As you see, there can be many reasons that parents get “nothing” as the answer to their questions. Next time you go to a community event you discover here on Hilltown Families, discuss with your child how they would explain it to someone who wasn’t there. It’s best to practice by explaining something fun!


Kathy Puckett

Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at kathypuckett.com.

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