Problem Preschool Behaviors

preschool behaviors

Today, we’re covering problem behavior in preschoolers, including behaviors that impact learning and development because of participation in preschool activities. Every preschooler, family, and classroom is different. With the uniqueness embedded into an Early Childhood Classroom, it isn’t uncommon for teachers to have some run-ins with concerning behavior. This blog will teach you the five steps to creating a behavior plan for managing preschool behaviors, which encourages positive interactions with parents and children. 

Problem behaviors in preschool and what's the behavior trigger for preschoolers

The uniqueness of every family and child plays a role in each preschool classroom. Every teacher has expectations. All classrooms are set up differently, and the environment can change, based on the activities and people who are present. Understanding how to support children and their families, while teaching children academic, social, and emotional skills, can be daunting for preschool teachers. 

examples of challenging preschool behaviors

Some of examples of challenging behaviors in preschoolers include:

  • Hitting, scratching, slapping, grabbing
  • Biting, spitting, chewing on non food items, licking
  • Kicking others
  • Bolting out of the classroom or other setting
  • Refusing to work, refusal to cooperate, talking back
  • Yelling, screaming, crying
  • Tantrums – Check out this post on the OT Toolbox to better understand meltdown vs. tantrum behavior

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Do any of these behaviors sound familiar? 

What causes challenging behaviors in preschool?

Before covering strategies to address behaviors that impact learning and the development of skills, it is important to understand why we may see challenging behaviors in the preschool setting.

Based on these Kindergarten readiness standards of emotional readiness, 5-6 year old children are expected to know how to calm down, listen to teachers, follow directions, take turns with peers (this is a great resource on turn taking), and transition between activities throughout the school day. 

When a child enters preschool, they typically haven’t had much experience with some of these tasks. Some young children adapt well to the social and emotional expectations of a large group situation, while other children need extra support. 

Preschool behavior triggers

Behavior Triggers

There can be a multitude of reasons why problem behaviors occur in the preschool setting. Just some of the behavior triggers that lead to common issues in the preschool setting include these causes:

  • Having a new routine (potty training, time change, or differing work schedules of parents are some examples) throws off the child’s ability to self regulate
  • Experiencing a change in home environment (a new baby added to the family, moving to a new home, or other home changes)
  • Not getting enough sleep (check out this article on sleep hygiene)
  • Too much screen time
  • Developmental changes in the preschool age range

Breaking these underlying areas down, it is possible to see three common factors that may trigger a behavioral response between the ages of 3-5 years.

Three common triggers of preschool behavior outbursts:

  • Basic needs (hunger, sleep, thirst, temperature) Is the child hungry, tired or overwhelmed? Is it close to snack time or nap time? Did the child drink enough water while they were playing outside? Basic needs affect everyone differently. Children tend to be sensitive to bodily changes. Medical issues may affect basic needs. Make sure to be in contact with parents about any sort of change in a child’s health. This includes toileting challenges (constipation), new medications they may have been given, and allergy concerns.
  • Environment (changes to routine of the environment, home situation, transportation, changes to the classroom environment: lights, sounds, smells, temperature, distractions, unexpected changes).
  • Behavior of others (behavior of peers, behaviors and actions of adults, parents, caregivers, educators, and behaviors of others in the classroom: other children making noise, someone provoking them, someone else having a tantrum). These friendship activities for preschool can help with this area of social emotional learning.

Triggers of challenging behavior in the preschool age range can be compounded by several of these considerations occurring at one time. Additionally, preschoolers can struggle with communication to let others know what is happening in their world.

How to support challenging preschool behaviors

How to support challenging preschool behaviors

Children learn best from consistency. This pertains to social and emotional expectations, both at home and in the classroom.

Talking to families about concerns regarding their child’s behavior, is one of the hardest conversations that a teacher can have.

By creating a 5 step behavior plan with the family, educators can support children, while also demonstrating to families that they are there to help by teaching their child how to interact and engage with their peers. 

5 Step Behavior Plan for Preschoolers

Here are the 5 steps to complete when creating a behavior plan for a child. Going through these steps, you’ll see that addressing emotional regulation, getting to the root of underlying causes and considerations, creating an age-appropriate plan, including play-based strategies or tools to support development in these areas.

As always, the concept of the “iceberg” of underlying considerations is upheld.

1. Determine the cause of the behavior

There are many different causes of a child’s behavior. Parents and teachers can track the behavior of a child, gathering data using an ABC chart. This refers to antecedent (what happened before the behavior started), behavior (what that child did), and the consequence (how did the child and adult respond to the behavior.) 

When observing children to understand the cause of their behavior, make sure to pay close attention to the common behavior triggers addressed and listed above. Getting clear on what’s causing the visible behavior is essential.

*Keep track of children that are known to have sensory sensitivities (Here are some questions to ask yourself when monitoring the environment:

  • Have you changed anything in the room?
  • Has the weather been different (humid, rain, snow, extra cold or hot)?
  • Is it really bright and sunny, or gloomy and foggy?
  • Does the child have any sensory sensitivities such as clothing, sounds, being touched?
  • Have you changed the classroom routine?
  • Has the child touched or engaged in a sensory rich experience they may not have liked (finger-paint, sensory bin, slime, play dough)?
  • Is the classroom too loud or very busy?
  • Check if the child is wearing something new/uncomfortable (do their shoes fit? Is there a scratchy tag on their clothes? Is their diaper too tight?)
  • Here is a great post on working with children with sensory differences.

2. Talk to parents and caregivers

Once you have narrowed down the cause of the behavior, make a plan to meet with the child’s caregivers (parents, grandparents, daycare staff) to go over your findings. Include any member of their team who spends a great amount of time with this child.

Documented evidence and observations from the ABC chart will give you concrete examples of what is happening, and why. 

When starting the conversation with the family, begin by describing the child’s strengths. Share their child’s favorite activity to do at school, who their friends are, and one great thing they did that week.

Next, show the family the ABC chart, explain what behaviors you want to change, and what new behaviors you would like the child to do instead.

Encourage the family and other caregivers to share their observations of the child at home, and out in the community. 

3. Create goals to improve preschool behaviors

After sharing what you are going to work on with their child, include the team in goal setting, allowing caregivers to share what they would like their child to do. As you write these goal, phrase the goals in a positive way, showing what you expect from the child.

As with all goals, make sure they are measurable and attainable. For goal setting tips, check out this post on using a goal ladder.

Make an appointment for a follow up meeting with the family, so you can check in on how the child is doing at home, at school, and out in the community. 

For example:

  • Jackie will use her words when she wants to use a toy 80% of the time. 
  • Mark will participate in circle time for 10 minutes with supports such as breaks, sensory fidgets, alternative seating without leaving the area.
  • Trent will transition from outside to inside time on her own without maladaptive behaviors or needing to have physical support. 

Next, it’s time to come up with a way to support the child in meeting these goals. 

4. Establish interventions for challenging preschool behaviors

As you determine the interventions to be used at school, share them with the family, encouraging them to use the same interventions at home and in the community.

Children thrive on consistency. When receiving the same messages and intervention techniques at home and school, children will learn the behavior faster. They will learn to carry over the behaviors from one setting to the next.

Three common interventions to include in a preschool behavior plan:

  • Create a calm down corner with tools for emotional regulation- Children tend to become overwhelmed, losing control of their emotions, when they don’t have a positive way to calm down. Soothing Sammy teaches children how to calm down, using visual and tactile tools, while supporting a positive image of feelings. As children learn how to manage their feelings, they are able to communicate and problem solve in different situations.
  • Sensory diet for the classroom – When children become frustrated due to sensory difference, a sensory diet for the classroom and home works wonders, by giving children the tools to cope with their struggle. This list, created by occupational therapists, includes practical strategies easily implemented in any preschool classroom.
  • Utilize Visual and Auditory Cues for Transitions- Children who are overwhelmed or frustrated, don’t always hear what others are saying to them. The use of visual schedules, visual prompts, and auditory cues remind children what is expected of them, when they aren’t able to process what is said. Using visual tools such as a picture schedule, first/then chart, or picture exchange cards (PEC), while keeping directions clear and simple can help. Adding an auditory prompt, such as a bell or clapping, to signify it is time to clean up, gives children multisensory ways to receive a direction. 

Check out this visual cue resource for use in daily activities, sensory diets, PECs, and visual supports.

5. Preschool Behavior Plan Follow through 

When following through with a preschool behavior plan, the next steps are important. This follow through looks like many things.

Talking with parents and caregivers, make sure that you follow up with a second meeting to discuss the child’s progress. This is important, as it gives the parents the ability to weigh in on the next steps, the teachers to provide parents with constructive feedback of how their child is doing, and an opportunity to discuss a referral to specialists if needed.

Some of the most common specialist referrals are:

  • Audiologist for a hearing evaluation
  • Occupational therapist for sensory, behavior, motor skill concerns
  • Speech therapist for language delays
  • Early Intervention for developmental delays
  • Behavior therapist for more intensive behavior needs
  • Pediatrician for concerns about medically based delays (including autism, ADHD, nutrition, sleep, or gastrointestinal issues)
  • Note: teachers need to be cautious when suggesting referrals to other professionals, offering possible diagnoses, or alarming caregivers.

check out these other great resources from the OT Toolbox to support behavior

Creating a behavior plan helps parents and teachers work together regarding preschool behaviors. Providing an environment that includes consistency, open communication, and sensory supports, will give every child a supportive environment they need to thrive. This five part behavior plan blueprint includes strategy ideas, goal creation tips and resources for behavior tracking. A behavior plan is an essential component of a healthy classroom.

Jeana Kinne is a veteran preschool teacher and director. She has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Her Bachelors Degree is in Child Development and her Masters Degree is in Early Childhood Education. She has spent over 10 years as a coach, working with Parents and Preschool Teachers, and another 10 years working with infants and toddlers with special needs. She is also the author of the “Sammy the Golden Dog” series, teaching children important skills through play.

Calm Down Corner

calm down area in classroom

For young (and old) children, a great calming classroom tool that supports learning, social participation, and school tasks is the calm down corner. A calming corner in the classroom can be a great sensory strategy to support emotional regulation needs in students. Let’s go over fun calm down corner ideas to support various regulation needs in the classroom.

Calm down corner ideas and tips

Calm Down Corner

A classroom calming area can include a variety of movement and sensory based activities or tools. 

  • Flexible Seating tools – bean bag chair, movement seat, deflated beach ball seat, couch, soft chair, floor mats, large pillows
  • Soft surfaces – yoga mat, gymnastics mat, or soft rug
  • Headphones – with or without music, sound machine
  • Visual schedule of sensory strategies
  • Emotions Playdough mats can be a great tool for a calm down corner.
  • Things to look at – books, magazines, pictures, lava lamp (refrain from electronics that have a screen, as they are alerting)
  • Calming corner printables and other visual calming strategies – Check out these calming sensory stations for Spring
  • Timer – visual timers with countdown options are great
  • Preferred sensory items such as tactile toys, chewing items, plushies, fidgets, etc.

This list is just the beginning! A calm down corner can include any item from the list above or classroom sensory diet strategies, based on the needs of the individual student.

This article on supporting self regulation in preschoolers offers valuable information on this topic.

Calm down corners can be quiet soothing areas to decompress for certain learners, while others need a more active calm down area in classrooms.

How to Add movement to a calm down corner

There are many different ways that children can calm down. Movement is one of the most beneficial and complicated ways to manage feelings and emotions.

There are two different types of movement patterns that support the sensory system.

Both of these types of movement activities increase awareness of where a body is in space, calms the central nervous system and regulates emotions in an amazing way. Movement is complicated as it can be alerting and calming. Picking the right activity for the desired outcome is tricky, but effective.

Help your learner understand what they need for self regulation, rather than bouncing all over the calm down corner.

How is movement calming?

Have you noticed that children seem to pay attention longer after moving around for a while? This isn’t just because they are tired after completing an active task. Children and adults are able to attend for longer periods of time when movement breaks are embedded into their daily schedules due to the sensory benefits it provides.

For adults that have desk jobs, it is widely known that every 20 minutes, they should stand up. This not only helps blood flow, but also awakens the body. When children are engaged in circle time, implementing movement based activities within circle (like freeze dancing, jumping and marching) is beneficial to improving attention.

Movement has many benefits, including helping calm down when feeling overwhelmed with emotions. 

When the sensory system becomes overstimulated due to internal feelings and frustrations, some people are quick to seek out movement activities to calm down. Adults may go for a walk or run, chew gum, lift weights or kick a ball. This strategy directly affects proprioceptive input.

There are many ways the body processes movement. This impacts the central nervous system in different ways.

  • Proprioceptive inputs is one of the ways the body processes movement. It tells the brain where the body is in space. Proprioception is guided by skin, muscle, and joint receptors in the body, to connect to the brain through the nervous system. In this way, a person knows where their body is in space, and what the body is doing, without needing to watch the body parts move. A great example of proprioception, is being able to walk down the stairs without looking at ones legs or feet
  • Heavy work, or tasks that involve heavy resistance, offers input to the muscles, joints, and connective tissue, and is essential to regulating the sensory system
  • In this article on neuroplasticity, evidence suggests the sensorimotor cortex that governs proprioception is not fixed, and can be changed through external manipulation.
  • Vestibular movement, like proprioception, also helps alert us where our body is in space. This system operates through the inner ear, passing information to the brainstem, affecting many areas of the body. If a person starts jumping, rocking to music, or dancing to calm the body, it activates the vestibular system. This article on vestibular activities does a great job explaining this system.

more about the vestibular system

Receptors in the inner ear, found in two structures (the otolith organs and the semicircular canals), respond to linear/angular/rotational movement, gravity, head tilt, and quick movement changes. 

The receptors in the ear, provide information to the central nervous system about the body’s position in space. Information is used to:

  • control posture, eye, and head movements
  • correct the eyes with head and body movements
  • muscle tone and postural adjustments
  • perceive motion and spatial orientation, and integrates somatosensory information

Through the vestibular and proprioceptive systems, the body processes information about where it is space, interprets movement patterns, and recognizes touch and joint pressure. These senses greatly impact the ability to calm down by triggering pressure points through movement (such as rocking or swinging). 

When a child (or adult) becomes upset or overwhelmed, it is helpful to utilize the vestibular and proprioceptive systems as intervention tools. This helps a person calm and self regulate, in order to process their feelings and problem solve. 

Because children often need sensory strategies to self regulate, having a designated calm down area set up in the home/classroom makes redirecting children to the appropriate calming activities much easier.

The Soothing Sammy program is a great way to encourage children to take part in creating their own calm down corner through a story about a dog, Sammy, a golden retriever. As children help build Sammy’s calm down area to use when overwhelmed, they are gently taught that it is okay to have a variety of feelings. As children look through the book, they learn how to use objects in their calm down corner when needed, including drinking water, wiping their face with a cloth, jumping on a small mat (proprioceptive and vestibular input) and much more. 

There are so many items that we can add to a calm down corner and every calm down corner will be different based on individual children’s needs. In the Soothing Sammy curriculum, there are recipes for lavender bubbles, slime, tactile fidgets, paint, and others.

Proprioception Calm Down Corner Ideas

Here are some great proprioceptive strategies to include in a calm down corner:

  • Calming Corner Printables- Print off the sensory stations listed below. These support heavy work needs (and vestibular input)
  • Jumping mat or small trampoline. When children jump, they put pressure on their joints 
  • Weighted blanket. Weighted blankets provide deep pressure over the entire body, making this activity one of the an effective whole-body proprioceptive strategies to help children calm down
  • Watering plants. Lifting a watering can, can impact joints all over the body. As children stoop down to pick up the watering can, moving it over plants of different heights, they are getting great input
  • Weighted ball. Lifting and rolling over a weighted ball increases proprioceptive input in the hands, arms, shoulders, and core. 
  • Play Dough. Squishing, squeezing and pulling apart playdough or clay, increases proprioceptive input in hands and small joints. 

Some of these activities can be alerting or calming, therefore some trial and error may be needed.

Vestibular Calm Down Corner Ideas

Movement with changes in positioning can be calming as well. Think slow, rocking movements. Here are some Vestibular strategies to include in a calm down area:

  • Farm Brain Breaks These simple, yet fun activities, provide visual ways to complete vestibular activities
  • Calming Corner Printables- Movement like yoga poses or those offering brain breaks can be just the calming input needed.
  • Swinging – Help your child move and sway in different directions with an indoor or outdoor swing. A Sensory Swing for modulation is an amazing way to provide an option to swing in a home or preschool setting
  • Trampoline – Provide a small trampoline for your child to jump on. (Amazon affiliate link:) This toddler trampoline with handle is perfect for indoors spaces
  • Dancing – Any type of movement to music, including freeze dancing or shaking instruments (such as a tambourine, bells, maracas) or using scarves, are wonderful additions to a calm down corner
  • Yoga Poses – There are several themed yoga poses perfect for children. Add a yoga book or cards like these Unicorn Yoga Poses to any calm down area

Calming Corner Printables

Over the years, we’ve created seasonal sensory stations that support regulation needs. We’ve received wonderful words of thanks and feedback letting us know how loved these sensory stations have been.

Check out each of these seasonal calming corner printable packets. Pick and choose the ones that support your needs in the classroom, therapy clinic, or home:

  1. Summer Sensory Stations
  2. Fall Sensory Stations
  3. Winter Sensory Stations
  4. Christmas Sensory Stations
  5. Spring Sensory Stations

Additionally, other calming corner printables might include deep breathing posters. We have many free deep breathing exercises on the website, including:

Finally, a brain beak printable like our popular alphabet exercises makes a great wall poster for a calming corner of the classroom.

A final note on setting up a calming corner in classroom

Calm down areas should incorporate all the senses, as every mood, trigger, situation and response is different. Equally important is the co-regulation aspect, which relates to responding to the mood and behavior of those around us, or the peers that may be present in a classroom or home setting.

By utilizing a variety of calming tools in a calming corner, or calm down space within the classroom, children will be able to identify what they need, the moment they need it, while still engaging in active learning.

It can be daunting and complicated providing for the needs of all of your different learners, however, by incorporating vestibular and proprioceptive materials in a calm down corner, children are able to use these powerful movement strategies when they need them the most, all while taking a multisensory approach to academics.

Jeana Kinne is a veteran preschool teacher and director. She has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Her Bachelors Degree is in Child Development and her Masters Degree is in Early Childhood Education. She has spent over 10 years as a coach, working with Parents and Preschool Teachers, and another 10 years working with infants and toddlers with special needs. She is also the author of the “Sammy the Golden Dog” series, teaching children important skills through play.

Receptive Language

receptive language

This blog discusses the importance of receptive language and how it impacts development. Learn why understanding directions directly correlates to a child’s behaviors. You will discover receptive language activities to support preschoolers in complying with age appropriate requests. Read in this blog how auditory processing and attention play a huge role in receptive language.

Receptive language information and tools

What is Receptive Language?

Receptive language refers to how we understand spoken words, the language around us, and the ability to hear/understand/comprehend spoken language. Language is needed for learning, play, communication with others, understanding directions, safety, and participation in everyday activities. Functional participation requires receptive language in order to thrive and communicate wants, needs, thoughts, and ideas.

Receptive language can include spoken, written, and implied language. It is the intake of information, therefore receptive language can include un-spoken words. 

How about Expressive Language?

Receptive language is the information that is taken in.

Expressive language, in contrast, refers to the use of language to communicate with others. Expressive language is “expressed” through speech, sign, written words, picture symbols, gestures, body language, or alternative forms of language to communicate wants, needs, thoughts and ideas.

Receptive and expressive language are different aspects of language but are closely connected.

Receptive and Expressive Language

Expressive and receptive language fit together like important puzzle pieces. Any form of communication such as sign language, alternative forms of communication, and non-verbal cues, are types of both receptive language and expressive language. 

There are many different components that affect a child’s behavior, including the environment, co-regulation, sensory needs, emotional vocabulary development, relationships, and developmental milestones. 

As children develop, their comprehension skills and ability to interact with the world changes.

Receptive and Expressive Language in Tantrums

Miscommunication occurs between adults and preschoolers when children are given directions in ways they don’t understand. When a child has difficulty with understanding what is asked of them, the result is often a tantrum. The same is true when a young child does not have the words to express themselves.

There are many reasons why preschoolers have difficulty following directions, or responding to age appropriate prompts. Sometimes they do not understand the directions.

Other times, toddlers do not want to do what is asked of them. When they are upset, overwhelmed and uncooperative, give children the tools to settle down.

Once a child has calmed down, try giving the direction again. Encourage them to use words to communicate why they are feeling frustrated about the direction, and if they have a different idea on how to complete a task.

You can see how the receptive language input and expressive language communication output, along with auditory processing, or sensory processing of auditory input, all connect and impact one another as they play a role in tantrums vs. sensory meltdowns. It is all connected!

Why is receptive language important? This article covers receptive language development.

Receptive Language Development

Toddlers and preschoolers learn new words at a rapid rate. One morning you may hear your child say a three word phrase, and the next day they say a five word sentence. A child’s brain is magnificent, growing rapidly through the first five years of their life. Because development is complicated, it may feel overwhelming to new parents. This article explains important milestones by age. 

When children are born, they understand facial cues, the sounds and tones in voices, and follow gestures. As they grow, children start to understand pointing, hand gestures, spoken words, and picture vocabulary. Receptive language is the foundation to a child’s ability to understand what is being asked them, or others in their environment. 

As children learn about the meaning of gestures and words, they are able to anticipate and respond to the needs of those in their environment. The process of how our brains collect and decode language, is complex.

When children are learning how to process language, adults can support their comprehension by providing directions in simple phrases, incorporating gestures, and being patient when a child forgets to complete a task. Being mindful of the environmental surroundings also plays a key role in making sure children are able to focus on the words being directed towards them, with minimal sensorial distractions. 

For instance, if a parent yells a three-step direction from the kitchen while their four year old is watching a television show in the other room, it is likely the child did not hear the entire direction.

They may hear the first, middle, or last part of the phrase instead. When a child is given a direction that is new to them, or that they don’t fully comprehend, it may take a few moments for children to process and understand what is asked of them.

One important tip for receptive language skills is to give a child a moment to process directions before repeating them. If they still do not understand, speak slower, with shorter commands.

Students who are strong in these skills may be auditory learners.

The Anatomy behind language

This peer reviewed article on “The Functional Neuroanatomy of Language states:

  • Recognizing speech sounds is carried out in the superior temporal lobe bilaterally
  • The superior temporal sulcus bilaterally is involved in phonological-level aspects of this process
  • The frontal/motor system is not central to speech recognition, although it may modulate auditory perception of speech
  • Conceptual access mechanisms are likely located in the lateral posterior temporal lobe (middle and inferior temporal gyri)
  • Speech production involves sensory-related systems in the posterior superior temporal lobe in the left hemisphere
  • The interface between perceptual and motor systems is supported by a sensory-motor circuit for vocal tract actions (not dedicated to speech)
  • It is very similar to sensory-motor circuits found in primate parietal lobe
  • Verbal short-term memory can be understand as an emergent property of this sensory-motor circuit.” 

No wonder language is so complicated!

Receptive language activities and strategies for receptive and expressive language

Receptive Language Activities

Focusing on receptive language activities support the development of receptive and expressive language, because these types of language are so closely tied together.

Talk

Encourage children to take part in everyday activities to build language comprehension, understand social cues, and follow directions given to them on a daily basis.

Talk with them all the time. Have conversation in the car, name all the items in the grocery store, talk about their daily schedule, and encourage opportunities for them to express themselves.

Age-appropriate activities

When children are provided with age appropriate cues, and a calm down spot to process their feelings, they can thrive in all aspects of development.

Focus on auditory attention during these age-appropriate tasks.

Here are nine simple ways to ensure your kids are hearing and understanding directions:

  1. Make sure to give directions in simple form (one step directions for children under 20 months old; two-step directions for children under three years old; three step directions for children under five years old).
  2. Use visual and auditory cues when giving directions, such as pointing, gestures, words and picture cues. 
  3. Give directions when you are in front of the child, kneeling down at their level. 
  4. Make sure you have their undivided attention (no television, music, electronics, or other distractions).
  5. Encourage eye contact if appropriate (some children with neuro-diverse needs have a harder time making eye contact and this is not appropriate. It is always important to address individual needs, strengths, and goals).
  6. Make sure what you are asking the child to do, is developmentally appropriate for their current skill level. 
  7. Use these first/then visual cards to communicate what you are requesting. 
  8. Implement a visual schedule to support requests around transition times. 
  9. Try the activities in the Auditory Processing Kit found on the OT Toolbox. This printable resource offers tools to support listening skills, whole body listening, listening comprehension, active listening, and auditory processing needs. This printable packet contains active listening activities, hands-on strategies, activity cards, visual cards, handouts, and more.
  10. Try a DIY whisper phone to focus on auditory attention, sounds, and focus on a whisper.

Why is receptive language important?

Receptive language development directly affects all areas of development, from attention span, to literacy, social skills, and many more.

Receptive language development is important for:

  • Learning
  • Comprehension (hearing and deciphering between auditory cues- suffixes, pronunciations, tone, etc. in speech)
  • Communication skills
  • Social emotional development
  • Safety
  • Play and interaction with others
  • Functional development
  • Many other task and participation skills!

It’s easy to see how language challenges with nuances of receptive input can impact so many areas. These are just some of the difficulties a child with delayed receptive language development may present with. 

Challenges related to receptive language include:

  • Attention and concentration challenges- Sustained effort is involved in understanding language, and being able to hold that information long enough to get the task done.
  • Behavior challenges- Not being able to understand and perceive directions, can result in social emotional challenges, or maladaptive behaviors.
  • Literacy challenges- Reading and writing struggles can occur in the classroom with if a person has receptive language struggles.
  • Social skills concerns- Participating in social situations can be difficult when engaging in reciprocal interaction with others (either verbally or nonverbally). This can impact social situations, social emotional learning, and functional participation.
  • Sensory processing needs- Auditory registration of sounds, language, and information can be impacted through sensory processing disorders. 
  • Executive functioning requires using auditory information that is received and processed, to complete higher order reasoning and thinking skills, following directions, participating in tasks, and using working memory.
  • Expressive language delays- Expressive language can be impacted by not understanding language from others (receptive language delay), because it is not accurately received correctly, in order to be processed. 
  • Planning and sequencing concerns- Receptive language impacts direction following, and accurate sequential completion of multi-step tasks 
  • Auditory Processing issues- Difficulty in the ability to hear sounds, distinguish between similar sounds or words, and separate relevant speech from background noise.

A final note on receptive language

Receptive language impacts a variety of areas of development. When teachers and other caregivers slow down speech, and support receptive language skills, all other areas of a child’s life will benefit.

Starting at birth, singing, talking, and reading to children, helps develop neuron and synapse development in the brain. 

Don’t forget to check out all of the great resources on the OT Toolbox, including the Auditory Processing Tool Kit.

Auditory Processing Kit

Jeana Kinne is a veteran preschool teacher and director. She has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Her Bachelors Degree is in Child Development and her Masters Degree is in Early Childhood Education. She has spent over 10 years as a coach, working with Parents and Preschool Teachers, and another 10 years working with infants and toddlers with special needs. She is also the author of the “Sammy the Golden Dog” series, teaching children important skills through play.