4 reasons you should try following your child's lead

You will often hear people talking about 'following your child's lead'. It is one of the most powerful things you can do to support your child's play and language skills, but what does it actually mean?

Put simply it means this:

Watch what your child is doing and talk about it. If what they are doing is safe and not really annoying, don't try and change it.

Here are 4 reasons why you should try this with your child:

1) Young children find it very difficult to divide their attention. They just can't think about 2 things at once, so if they are driving cars up and down the sofa and you are talking about something different then they will find it very difficult to listen to you.

2) Children need to link words to meanings. If they are drawing lines and dots and you say 'oh nice lines' or 'more dots' then they will link the words you are saying with the patterns they are making on the paper. If you are asking them to draw a house instead they will not learn the words for what they are doing.

3) Following your child's lead inspires confidence. You are sending a message to your child that they are good at playing. If you frequently make suggestions for how they should change their play then you are sending a message that they are getting it wrong.

4) By following their lead you are supporting the natural progression of their development. Children learn things in a reasonably predictable order (give or take), for example young babies explore toys with their mouths, then they learn to relate objects together (e.g. bang bricks together), then they learn that an object can represent another object in play and so on. Each of these stages prepares them for the next so they can't skip a stage. When you follow your child's lead you allow your child to move at their own pace through these stages, ensuring that they learn everything they need to be ready to move on to the next stage.

A few notes
- Following your child's lead is a really helpful thing to do when playing and talking with your child. However it does not mean that that you have to do it all the time! If your child is doing something dangerous/annoying/inconvenient then you can most definitely ask them to stop!
- If your child has additional needs, for example autism then you will need to take individual advice ( e.g. from their speech and language therapist or teacher) about whether following their lead is helpful for them.

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