How to use meal time to build communication skills.

As the holidays approach family and friends will gather to talk, laugh, share stories and meals. It is in this context that there is opportunity for both child and adult with communicative difficulties to benefit.

Meal time is a natural setting in which to teach and reinforce a variety of communication skills.

Here are some skills to focus on at meal or snack time:

1. Greeting. Salutations or greetings are important to get the conversation going. The adult or child should be encouraged to greet all persons with a “Hi _(person’s name)_” or “Hello”. This initiates conversation as well provide a context for further social engagement. At meal’s end also encourage use of farewells (“bye”, “Nice to see you’) as it’s important the child or adult get to practice ending a conversation.

2. Requesting.  This is a challenging skill and the caregiver or parent would need to pre-teach basis phrasing like “I would like ________”.  It would be important to have practiced requesting a variety of food items prior to the meal. Remember to teach an accompanying hand sign for “want” when practicing requesting as the use of signs tend to make it easier to get the words out and help to amplify the actual request. The caregiver can also encourage use of other requests like ” more please”  or “please pass the corn”. Meal time is a great time to use newly learned skills and success is typical – particularly in this non-judgemental atmosphere with friends and loved ones.

3. Commenting. The caregiver or parent can encourage use of pre-taught comments appropriate to meal time. Examples might be “That was great!” or “That was delicious”.  Comments can range from one to several words (i.e. “nice”, “perfect casserole” etc.). Use of short, over-learned phrases are a great strategy and proven technique which have helped individuals who have had a stroke or  language delay or disorder re-develop language.

4. Answering. As the meal progresses and conversation is mixed in an individual can be called upon (intentionally or not) to respond to simple questions. Questions can be posed to elicit simple or more elaborate responses. Some examples might be “What did you like best?” or ” What would you like for dessert?”. A still easier question would be : “Would you like more cake?”. Correct responses can be reinforced with a smile, a thumbs up or ideally – continued conversation.

In conclusion,  I would say that communication benefits every aspect of our health.  So perhaps during this holiday – as we talk, laugh and share we can try to help those we love connect even more by focusing on some of the above mentioned communication skills. In doing so we are all made better!


I've been a speech therapist for 18 years now. I've worked with children and adults in a variety of settings and have found the work very fulfilling. I am married and have 3 children. I am also a musician.