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  • Writer's pictureLena Agree JD, PsyD

5 Ways Your Nanny Can Support Your Child’s Language Development

Your nanny interacts with your child over and over again across multiple contexts, which gives her valuable opportunities to support your child’s language development (which also promotes cognitive development). Research suggests 6 strategies your nanny (and you as well!) can incorporate into her interactions with your child to help create a positive environment for language acquisition:

1. Ask a variety of questions. Use different types of questions:

  • Yes/no

  • Close-ended (name or identify something specific)

  • Open-ended (no specific answer, such as “what is happening there”?)

  • Asking the child to elaborate (“Tell me more about that”)

  • Allow sufficient time for the child to answer. The younger the child, the longer it takes, so resisting the temptation to jump in is important. Patience! (which can be hard!)

2. Encourage turn-taking. Turn-taking in all types of scenarios is important because it teaches reciprocity. Most interactions provide opportunities to incorporate the back-and-forth process, such as:

  • Conversation

  • Games

  • Laughter

  • Facial expressions

  • Motor activities

  • With infants, imitating their noises is a meaningful turn-taking experience.

All of these interactions encourage mutuality, which is a critical element of all successful relationships.

3. Vary the vocabulary. Children digest the words people use around them. By regularly adding new words to her repertoire, your nanny can help build your children’s vocabulary and deepen their understanding of language.

4. Diversify the talk. This refers to varying the type of talk your caregiver engages in with your child. Types of talk include:

  • Descriptions of your child’s activity (“You are making that car go fast”!)

  • Descriptions of an object or event (“That birthday cake is huge”)

  • Talk of future events (“Tomorrow we are going to the zoo”)

  • Affirmations (“You are working so hard at that”)

  • Songs

  • Poems

  • Mental states (“That child looks sad,” or, “Do you wish it was your birthday”?)

  • Logical reasoning (“If you break that toy you won’t be able to play with it anymore”)

5. Add Non-concrete language. This refers to talking about things that are not immediately present. It is sometimes called “decontextualized” language. It requires a higher level of cognition, and encourages the child to think about things s/he can’t see.

  • Here are some examples:

  • People who are not there (“Your brother is at school”)

  • Past events (“Remember when we went to the zoo and you touched the turtle”?)

  • Future events (“We are going to the park tonight”)

  • Open-ended questions about any of the above (which is more cognitively demanding), such as:

· “What was your favorite animal at the zoo”?

· “What do you think will be the best ride at the amusement park”?

· “How did you get to Florida”?

There is no formula for applying these different methods of communication, so please don’t take it as a rigid rule. It is just a reminder that there are different ways to think and speak about things. We already know this, but people sometimes to forget it when working with children.

For example,

I used to take my son to a preschool where each day they’d break out

the Lego Duplo blocks. The assistant would sit next to my son and talk to him

while he was playing, which seemed like a good thing. However, after observing

the class for 3 days, I noticed that she always said the same thing:

“What color is that one”? She was like a broken record. She never asked anything


She should have asked things like, “What are you going to build today?”,

“How big it will it be?” Then, “What did you build?” “How does it work?”

But nothing! Just “What color is that one.”

The preschool assistant in my example really should have known better. But she obviously

didn’t realize she was actually turning off her own brain around the children rather than using it to scaffold and expand theirs.

Your caregiver may not know these skills right off the bat, but she should be able to learn them easily and integrate them into her caregiving.

Check out the first post on Supporting Your Child's Cognitive Development for more research-based tips on what to teach your current nanny, and look for in the next one.

Based on research by:

Atkins-Burnett, Sally, Shannon Monahan, Louisa Tarullo, Yange Xue, Elizabeth Cavadel, Lizabeth Malone, and Lauren Akers (2015). Measuring the Quality of Caregiver-Child Interactions for Infants and Toddlers (Q-CCIIT). OPRE Report 2015-13. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Halle, T., Anderson, R., Blasberg, A., Chrisler, A., & Simkin, S. (2011). Quality of caregiver- child interactions for infants and toddlers (QCCIIT): A Review of the Literature, OPRE 2011- 25. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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