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Why Letting Your Child Lead is Important in Language Development

Patience is virtue. When you let your child lead, they’ll want to communicate with you even more. Check out this article to learn why the OWL approach helps your children develop the language they need to reach their optimum potential.

Patience is a necessary skill for interacting and communicating with young children. When two people communicate, whether it be during conversation, or in play, they are participating in an interaction. In order to support and encourage your child to communicate, we need to wait. I know what you’re thinking, and I hear you, having patience when interacting with young children is hard! On the surface, it seems easier for us to take the lead and initiate those interactions ourselves. But here’s the catch- children who infrequently initiate receive less language input from their communication partners. If they don’t initiate themselves, they’re also missing out on motivating, extended interactions that are exciting to them! When you let your child lead- and show interest in what they’ve said, they will want to share and communicate with you even more! When a child receives feedback and input on a topic of interest, it makes learning a dynamic, child-driven process. Here are some tips for letting your child lead to effectively support their language development.

OWL- Observe, Wait, and Listen

The Hanen Centre introduced the strategy of OWL or, Observe, Wait, and Listen for parents and caregivers to use when interacting with their children. This strategy supports your child’s language development by encouraging them to initiate an interaction on their own. Initiation is a critical component of participation when having a conversation! Let’s break down the OWL strategy together.


Taking the time to observe your child’s body language, actions, gestures and facial expressions will help you better understand what’s on their mind. When you observe your child carefully, you will discover what your child is interested in. This will prepare you to share the moment with your child and participate in an interaction that includes feedback and input that is of interest to them.


When practicing the strategy of OWL, focus on the wait. Waiting gives you time to observe what your child might do or say. The process of waiting allows you to naturally observe and listen. There are three steps to waiting:

  • Stop talking
  • Lean forward, face-to-face with your child
  • Look at your child expectantly

Waiting this way sends a message to your child that you are ready for them to respond or take the lead. We understand that waiting is hard! It takes time to adjust to this amount of silence between you and your child. If you need a strategy to remind yourself to wait, slowly and silently count to 10. Deciding how long to wait and what to wait for is a learning process in itself! Some children may need a longer wait time, and some children may need a shorter wait time! Give your child enough time to send you a message. Their message can be through sounds, words, gestures, etc.  With practice, you will better understand how much time your child needs. Letting your child lead may not be so easy. Here are some ways you can create opportunities for your child to do so:

  • Help your child make a request:
    • Place a desired object out of reach… then wait
    • Offer a piece or portion of something… then wait
    • Chose an activity your child can’t do without help… then wait
    • Offer a choice… then wait
    • Pause a familiar activity/routine… then wait
  • Help your child make a comment or ask a question
    • Change a familiar activity… then wait
    • Hide objects in surprising places… then wait
    • When things go wrong… wait


Listening refers to paying close attention to all of your child’s words and sounds. Listening is an essential part of OWL because it allows you to prepare and be ready to appropriately respond to whatever your child says. By listening, you are letting your child know that you are present, focused, and interested in them and what they are doing. Now you’re probably thinking, “what happens when I can’t understand what my child says?” This can be frustrating but have no fear- at times like this, look at your child’s situational clues and take a guess at what they are trying to tell you. If you can’t figure it out at all, imitate your child’s communicative attempt and see if they do anything to make their message clearer. By doing so, you are showing your child that you’re trying your best to understand their message.

In conclusion, while waiting is hard, it is essential. OWLing sets the foundation for a naturalistic approach to communicating and creating motivating, engaging language-learning interactions between you and your child.


We hope you found this post helpful. Click HERE to learn more about what services and supports South Shore Therapies has to offer. Results that make a difference.


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