Using sabotage can be a valuable strategy for expanding your child’s expressive language skills. What is sabotage exactly? Here is some more info on the art of sabotage and some tips and tricks for using sabotage at home with your little ones. 

What is sabotage?

We find that Dave Sindrey from Listening for Littles says it best…

“Imagine an island where everything you ever needed was given to you before you even thought to ask. If you spilled something, a servant would rush in and clean it up and give your hands a quick wipe as well. Your staff would be trained and adept at anticipating your every need. You would rarely find the need to even speak to them.

“As parents, our strongest drive is to care for our children and to meet their needs. When we do this too well we rob our children of the chance to try, to fail, to succeed, and to learn. Sit on your hands. Wait. Stop anticipating your child’s needs. Play dumb. Give your child time to think about how he is going to make his needs known. Each word your child speaks is precious. Give lots of opportunities for this to happen.”

Strategies for making sabotage work:

The art of sabotage is walking the line between empowering your child and frustrating them. Often times the trick to making sabotage work is modeling the language your child can use during these situations.

Here is an example: You and your child approach a door that your child can’t open independently. Instead of opening the door, stop and wait. Count to 5 in your head! See if your child points, vocalizes, says or signs “open” or otherwise indicates that they need your help. If they do, connect with your child in this moment and expand what they have said. “You said “open“. You are right, we need to open the door!” or “You are pointing at the door. You’re right, we need to open it. Open the door!” If they don’t indicate to you in some way, model what they can do or say. “Uh oh, the door is closed. We need to open it. Open the door!” and then open the door together.

Trying sabotage at home:

Looking for easy ways to try this at home? Here are some of our favorites:

Mealtime sabotage

  • Forget to give your child a spoon to eat her cereal. Wait and see how they communicate this need to you.
  • Give your child just one piece of a food item that they love. See if they will ask you for more.
  • Give them a choice of 2 food items “Do you want the apple or the banana?” When they reply, give them the opposite of what they request. How will they respond?

Playtime sabotage

  • During play, say silly things and see if your child catches the discrepancies. Such as, when playing with animals: “Here’s my cow. He has spots, he says, ‘quack, quack.'”
  • Try ‘searching’ for an item that is within your child’s sight. Ask them in a silly tone, “Where is it!? Where did it go?”
  • Place an object in an unpredictable place for your child to find. For example, a toy in the refrigerator, a shoe in the bathtub before bath time, or a sticker on your face. Wait for your child to notice the strange thing or behavior, and encourage them to talk with you about it.

Routine sabotage

  • Hand your child something (a toy, a snack, a container of any kind) that needs to be opened. Don’t open it for them. Wait and see how they communicate with you that they need your help.
  • Give your child an empty container (milk, toothpaste, water bottle) that is typically full. Watch to see how your child indicates that this is not correct!
  • When getting dressed in the morning, do something intentionally silly and see if your child will call you out. Put a sock on your head or a shirt on your foot. Pretend like nothing is different or silly. See if they notice and comment!

Watch to see how your child reacts to these silly scenarios and have fun with these moments! The point of sabotaging is to make a situation so obvious your child will have no choice but to communicate with you in one way or another. Make sure when you sabotage that you elicit for communication only once or twice before giving your child what they want, to ensure they do not become too frustrated.

We’d love to hear how your sabotages go at home! What did you do and how did your child react? Take pictures or leave a comment!

Looking for more resources? Here’s an article from Hearing First called Sabotage, Silliness and Trickery