How can I help my three year old understand and use pronouns such as: I, me, you, my, and mine? It can be confusing!
I usually respond with a question: Are you using pronouns when you speak to your toddler?
Do you make comments or requests such as:
Mommy: “Give mommy the book please.”
Mommy: “What do you want mommy to do?”
Mommy: “Mommy loves you!”
Mommy: “Because mommy said so!”
(FYI – Daddies are just as guilty.)
If you use pronouns when you speak with your child, he or she will have an easier time using pronouns. So change “Give mommy the book please.” to “Give me the book please.”
When teaching a child “early” pronouns (I, my, me, mine, you), I usually ask a sibling or parent to help. Recently, I played catch with a two year old boy named Joey, and his older sister Natalie helped us out. (When working on pronouns with children who cannot catch / throw, we play rollie-pollie.)
I excitedly ask “Who wants the ball?” As instructed, Natalie waits for Joey to try to respond. When I give her a wink, she puts her hands up and says “Me!” or “I do!” I throw Natalie the ball.
Natalie asks us, “Who wants the ball?” Again, I wait patiently for Joey to make an attempt. He points to himself. I smile, give him a few seconds, and point to him while I comment, “You want the ball!” Once he catches it, I reinforce with “You have the ball!”
Joey is enjoying the game, as well as the attention. While holding the ball, he looks back and forth between Natalie and myself. I can see his wheels turning. “Ball?” he asks. I expand his thought, “Who wants the ball?” Natalie responds and the game goes on and on.
We might not hear pronouns, or correctly used pronouns from Joey the first time we try. Understanding and teaching “I” and “you” can be confusing. Meanwhile, Natalie and Joey’s mom can keep practicing our game for homework, and maybe next time I will come, Joey will be closer to using early pronouns correctly.
In this months edition of The ASHA Leader it was noted tea parties and pretend play with food require heavy pronoun use. These are other fun and practical ways to meet your child’s pronoun goals.
Parents often worry their child is not meeting language development milestones. With a two year old, I often use the Rossetti Infant Toddler Language Scale, to measure language development milestones. According to this scale, a child should begin to use early pronouns occasionally between 21 and 24 months. By 30 months of age, he should refer to himself by pronoun consistently.
A language development milestone chart I refer to for pronouns is listed below. It is adapted from Haas and Owens (1985); Huxley (1970); Morehead and Ingram (1973); Waterman and Schatz (1982); and Wells (1985), and can be found in Language Development: An Introduction (7th edition) by Robert E. Owens, Jr.:
Approximate Age (months) Pronouns
12-26 I, it
27-30 My, me, mine, you
31-34 Your, she, he, yours, we
35-40 They, us, hers, his, them, her
41-46 Its, our, him, myself, yourself, ours, their, theirs
47+ Herself, himself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves
Home Therapy Ideas to Improve Pronoun Usage
- Sort the laundry together: your sock, my pants, his shirt
- Play a game where taking turns is required (e.g., board game, pick-up sticks). Ask, “Whose turn is it?” (your turn, my turn, his turn, her turn, etc.)
- Read children’s books that support pronoun use:
Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! by Dr. Seuss
The Berenstain Bears: He Bear She Bear by Stan and Jan Berenstain
Whoops! by Louise Batchelor
- Read wordless picture books
- Use personalized photo books
- Pretend play (tea party, restaurant, baby doll play, etc.)
- Frequently provide positive pronoun models to your child throughout the day
Your support as a parent can be a tremendous help to your child’s success with using pronouns efficiently.
If you have concerns about your child’s language development, it may be beneficial to contact a speech-language therapist. Stephanie Sigal M.A., CCC-SLP provides speech therapy to children in their Upper East Side Manhattan homes. Stephanie can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.