Making requests

From birth and into early childhood, the communication skills of children typically develop at an astounding rate.

When your baby is born, they are helpless and dependent on you for everything, yet they already communicate.


When your baby is born, one of the first things they will do is cry.

At this stage, your child cries when anything makes them uncomfortable – when they are hungry, cold or tired.

But very soon, you will be able to understand the various variations in their crying.

There is one cry for “I am sleepy”, another for “I am hungry”, and another that says, “I need a nappy change”.

Gradually, over the first year, they learn to do many different things to communicate – they laugh, they lift up their arms to be picked up, they cry when you put them down, they push their food or the breast away when they have had enough.

One of the purposes of communication is making requests.

A request is when you ask someone to do something.

Some children have difficulties making requests.

Parents and caregivers may, therefore, need to anticipate the needs of their children, which can be worrying for them.

Children who have difficulties initiating interactions tend to have difficulties making requests.

Teaching requesting

• Creating opportunities for your child to request for desired items.

To help your child make requests, we need to think about our environment and how easy it is for our child to reach the items they desire.

If your child can easily have access to items on their own, they won’t need to ask you for anything.

Instead of putting their toys in a box on the floor where they can easily get them, we could put them in a box and at a place where they could see but not reach.

They will need to ask you for access to their toys.

This offers them great opportunities to make requests verbally or non-verbally (i.e., pointing or holding your hand to get to the item).

Engaging with your child

Playing with your child offers you the opportunity to engage them more.

Children learn through play.

Through play, we can model making requests for your child.

Regularly setting aside time to engage with your child is extremely helpful in teaching them to request through play.

Talk constantly when playing with your child.

For example, while playing, you can offer them choices of toys (‘Do you want the ball or car?’).


Engaging in activities that involve repetitions will help your child to learn more about making request (e.g., blowing bubbles – ‘I want more bubbles’).

You could begin with a leading but non-specific statement or question such as "Now what?" or "What should we do now?".

Remember, children learn better when having fun.

Waiting for child to respond

Parents and caregivers are often quick to prompt children to respond through various means.


Waiting and giving children enough time to respond is helpful.

Avoid being quick to tell them what to do or say.

When given enough time, usually known as thinking time, children are likely to respond on their own.

Sometimes, they only need some time to think about what to do or say.

Offer them things in bits

Mealtimes are a good opportunity to teach children to make requests.


Give your child the food in smaller portions.

Doing this in a reasonable manner can help your child to make requests when the portion given is finished.

If you are feeding them, you can sometimes pretend to forget and wait for them to make a request by using their words, pointing or even making a sound to indicate they want more.

You can do the same with water or drink by giving it to them in sips.

Be tactful when trying this as some children can get so frustrated and refuse to eat.

The more chances offered, the more they learn about making requests.

If your child is not talking yet, model it for them such as, ‘More water?’, ‘More drink?’.

In time, they may use these examples you set for them.

The writer is Speech and Language Therapist/Clinical Tutor,

University of Ghana.

E-mail:[email protected]

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