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Creating opportunities by keeping things back

What do we mean by ‘creating opportunities’?

As parents and carers, it is natural to give your child what you know they want because you are able to predict it. For example, if they sit in a A smiling face with a lightbulb in a thoughtbulb to show a good ideaparticular way or make a certain noise, it means they’re hungry, thirsty or need help.

Parents often say “I just knew they wanted me to open it” or “I just knew they were hungry, it’s that time of day”. But someone who didn’t know your child might not be able to understand these requests from their communication skills alone.

Opportunities for communication take place throughout the day. We want to think about how to help your child to deliberately and consistently communicate their messages to you. This means thinking about situations around your home and across your day when you can create reasons for your child to need to communicate with you.


By creating these opportunities, your child can practice communication skills like initiating interactions, requesting, and sharing attention.

Planning how to create opportunities

Planner with three steps written onFor all of the following strategies, it’s a good idea to plan ahead in terms of when you’re going to try out a particular strategy. It is usually helpful to think about what events, activities or times of day are most motivating for your child. For example, at snack time, when playing chase outside, or playing with a wind up toy.

You need to decide:

  • which strategy you want to try
  • which motivating toy or food item will you use
  • whether you need any extra resources like a clear container
  • what word might you say (for example, consistently saying “drink” when your child indicates that they want their cup).

Strategy 1: putting objects out of reach


Put things out of reach on a shelf or surface where your child can see it, but cannot reach it. For example, a drink on a worktop or a favourite toy on a shelf above the TV. If your child wants the item they are likely to find a way to communicate this to you.

Do not try this if your child likes to climb or would find their own way of reaching.

Strategy 2: clear containers

clear jar

Try putting a snack or favourite toy in a see-through container which your child cannot open. Tupperware tubs or plastic jars with screw tops work well. Leave the container out and available for your child.

They might need some gentle physical support initially to give you the container, or you might help them by holding out your hands to show them where to put the container.

Respond quickly by opening the container and saying “open!”, then giving the item which you can also name. Put the lid back on the container and allow it to happen again.

Strategy 3: holding a bit back

hand above an incomplete jigsaw

This strategy links closely to the clear containers strategy and is another way to help your child to request more by giving them items in small amounts or bit-by-bit.

This might mean you:

  • put a few raisins in a bowl instead of giving the whole pack
  • give them a little bit of drink
  • give a few pieces of a favourite puzzle, train track or other toy and hold the rest back

Then wait to see how they indicate they want more.

Additional resources and information

These 3 videos are part of the Weekend Words series. They explain and demonstrate creating opportunities for communication. Try to watch all 3 in order to get the most out of them.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Contact us

For more information please contact the Speech and Language Therapy Service at Flockton House on 0114 226 2333.

Is something missing from this resource that you think should be included? Please let us know

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Please note this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s. The details in this resource may not necessarily reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If you have specific questions about how this resource relates to your child, please ask your doctor.

Resource number: SL16

Resource Type: Article

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