“Hold you too”

So I have been doing my research and have been getting help and resources from others about how to help parents help their young children develop language.

A Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist friend of mine commented on the original “Hold you” post (you all should read that comment it’s quite informative and helpful) and she provided the link to this website.

Here is some of the take home points from the research I have been reading:

1. American kids tend to learn and produce nouns earlier and in more novel ways that verbs (Tomasello, Akhtar, Dodson, & Rekau, 1997). Parent tip : American parents don’t practice verbs with their young children.  We like to label things.  “Look a boat” “Is that your shirt?” “Where are your toes?”  It’s far less often that you hear parents say, “Look you are going” “Your sister is running” “I’m cooking”.  Don’t be afraid to teach your children verbs while you are labeling and teaching your child nouns.

2. The reason young kids say things like “hold you” might be because they have created a sort of template for language. Initially they follow these global rules to create sentences, even when their rules are incorrect.  For example, kids might frequently hear sentences structures with the word “you”  at the end of the sentence, “Can I hold you?” or “she is going to hug you” so they begin to understand that “you” comes at the end of a sentence and then they just insert the verbs they know before the “you” like “hold you.” (Akhtar, 1999).  As children grow and experience more language they are better able to form grammatically correct sentences.  Parent tip: There is no harm in children saying things like “hold you” when they want you to hold them, but when you hear your child saying something like this take it as a teaching opportunity.  Demonstrate to the child the differences in what things mean.  Pick her up and say, “I am holding you” and “you are holding me”.  Then pick up her sister and say, “I am holding sister.” Then pick up a doll an say “I am holding the baby” and then give the child the doll and say “Now, you are holding the baby”  By providing different examples of how the verb “holding” and where the word “you” can be used you will further expand your child’s templates of how that verb and different objects are used together.

3.  The power of overhearing.  While it is important that you speak to your child frequently for their language development, young children also learn words by overhearing others speaking (Akhtar, Jipson, & Callanan, 2001).  Older toddlers learned verbs and object labels equally well when overhearing the words as when they were addressed directly with the words.  Younger toddlers (2 year olds) were better able to learn object labels when overhearing them than action verbs (Akhtar et al., 2001).  Parent Tip:  It’s always important to speak to your child directly but remember than the conversations that are occurring around the child are also providing your child with learning opportunities to successfully learn new words too.

4. Parents tend to repeat the grammatically incorrect utterances of their children (Hirsh-Pasek, Treiman, Schneiderman, 1984).   This is not surprising to me because I completely understand how tempting it is to repeat the cute things that kids say (whether they are said correctly or not).  When a child says “hold you”, we don’t always correct them, instead we repeat what they say “hold you” which said by us is grammatically correct but by repeating it we are providing rewards for the way it is said.  This particular article didn’t’ look at the impact of mother’s repeating incorrect grammer said by child but just found that in fact, mother’s do repeat incorrect phrases.  Parenting tip: As with swear words and other “bad” things that children will spontaneously say, we have to be careful to not reward their behavior (despite how tempting it is to laugh or to repeat it).  While children will say things incorrectly and will learn on their own without parents correcting them, by repeating their mistakes you are generally rewarding the behavior.

Language learning is complex but the moral of the story is that talking to your children is important for their language development.  By speaking to your children frequently you are providing them with multiple examples of how speech is constructed and a variety of words that they will eventually incorporate into their vocabularies, plus talking with your children has emotional benefits as well.  Clearly the little girls on the train yesterday (see yesterday’s post) were just looking for someone to talk to.  Even when your children are older they are still learning and perfecting their language, so please keep talking and teaching your children!

Note that while I did do a lot of research for this post there is so much information about language learning that in no way did I do this topic justice in such a short blog post.  I’m sure there will still be more to come!


Akhtar, N. Jipson, J., & Callanan, M. A. (2001).  Learning words through overhearing. Child Development, 72, 416-430.

Hirsh-Pasek, K., Treiman, R., Schneiderman, M. (1984).  Brown & Hanlon revisted: Mothers’ sensitivity to ungrammatical forms.  Journal of Child Language, 11, 81-88.

Tomasello, M., Akhta, N., Dodson, K., & Rekau, L. (1997).  Differential productivity in young children’s use of nouns and verbs.  Child Language, 24, 373-387.

Tomasello, M., & Olguin, R. (1993).  Twenty-three-month-old children have a grammatical category of noun.  Cognitive Development, 8, 451-464.


Filed under Infants, Preschoolers, Toddlers

3 responses to ““Hold you too”

  1. Rachel

    Thanks so much Alexis! Just to add a bit – songs are a great way to incorporate more verbs into your communications with your infant! There are many great songs with lots of verbs!

  2. Scott

    The L1 acquisition literature is interesting, but for millenia humans have been learning language without any kind of specifically guided instruction. Even despite parents repeating “ungrammatical” phrases they still manage to conform eventually to the syntactical standard of the culture they grow up in. This is not one thing parents need to stress about.

    It’d be like teaching our kids to poop.

    • I completely agree Scott! Nothing at all that parents need to stress about, just thought it was interesting to share what we do know about language development and to further make the point that talking to your kids is so important! Thanks for the comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s