“Say What You See!” How remembering ‘Catchphrase’ can help your child’s language development

For most children of the 90’s, Catchphrase was probably a staple of your TV viewing (the choices were much more limited then, after all!). It provided hours of entertainment, but who knew remembering Roy Walker’s famous catchphrase, “Say what you see!”, can also be really helpful for your child’s language development when you are spending time and playing with them?

We often fall into a default of questioning our children when we are playing with them. It’s such a habit for adults to do this. The many, “What colour is that?”, or, “How many of those do you have?”, questions are no doubt well intentioned, but can start to feel like a grilling for your child. They’re just trying to play and we’re giving them a literacy and numeracy test!

Usually, we are trying to help them learn, but if we put ourselves in their shoes, when we ask them a question there may be one of two things going on for them:

1. They don’t know the answer and they feel stressed

2. They do know the answer and they get irritated with us incessantly asking them to show us how smart they are!

Neither of these feelings are conducive to building our relationship with our child, or to helping them consolidate learning.

There is another way…..”say what you see!”

You don’t need to question your child to help them build their vocabulary and a more effective way for them to learn is actually for them to listen to you speak. There are two ways to do this. Either you can play alongside them and comment on what you are doing or, if you provide a commentary to their play, this will help them learn language, and also give them a lovely feeling of knowing that you are paying complete attention to them, which is great for the parent-child relationship.

If you are commentating on what you are doing you can actually provide them with loads of learning about skills such as perseverance or trying again even if you get something wrong. You can also help them with emotional literacy by naming how you are feeling and modelling calm responses to more unpleasant emotional experiences.

For example:

  • “This puzzle is quite tricky, I’m not really sure where this piece goes. I’ll have to try and figure it out!”
  • “I’m so happy that my tower stayed up.”
  • “It’s a bit frustrating that my picture didn’t turn out how I wanted it to, never mind though.”

And if you’re speaking about what they’re doing you could say something along these lines…

  • “You are putting the blue block on top of the red block.”
  • “I can see you are drawing a lovely line there, it looks like a circle.”
  • “How lovely the sky looks today, I can see you looking at it.” perhaps when you’re out and about. 

It’s okay to ask the occasional question, too, and that might happen quite naturally, but if you try and make most of your communication just you talking about what you or they are doing, then you’re onto a winner! You may even find that they start to show more curiosity in what you’re doing and they might start to ask you questions, too, which may promote their own social development when they are starting to establish relationships with their peers.

Mairi is a Clinical Associate Psychologist and has practiced in an NHS CAMHS team in Scotland since 2015. She is also a children’s book author. Her debut book, ‘Mairi Moo is Starting School’ is aimed at helping families learn ways to manage and reduce feelings of anxiety about starting school or nursery. It is available on Amazon and the Great British Book Club.