How to get my child to stay on topic while speaking?

How to get my child to stay on topic while speaking?


In this blog, I am going to talk about how to get your child to stay on topic while speaking. Before I move on to the topic, a little introduction on what is staying on topic.

Conversational skills have become of utmost importance in today’s day and age. As adults, we need to have good conversational skills. This will help us achieve more professionally and personally. In children, this helps them build friends and form connections. There are various aspects to the conversation. It may look like two people are just talking, asking questions, etc. A lot of finer skills go unnoticed. A speech therapist helps your child is learning these conversational skills.

What comes under conversational skills?

  • Eye contact is a very important part of the conversation. It shows interest and confidence. It establishes a connection between speaker and listener. Besides you can communicate through your eyes as well.
  • Initiation – A technical term for starting a conversation. We all initiate a conversation about various topics. It may feel like a trivial thing. But this is crucial for blending into groups, parties, etc. Helps in making new friends as well. Your child may come on the radar if not initiating a conversation. He/she may be termed shy, coy, or introverted.
  • Post this come topic maintenance. This is a technical term for staying on topic. This is again crucial to keep the conversation going. Frequent changes in the topic will cause confusion and disruption to the conversation. This will lead to losing interest in the listener’s end.
  • Repairing a conversation – if we haven’t understood any part. Asking for repair is a part of conversational skills instead of just going ahead without understanding.
  • Understanding the body language of a person is related to the conversation. This will help us know when to stop or start a conversation. If a person looks tired, it may be best to not initiate conversation. If they are talking excitedly about something, probably best to ask questions once they have stopped.
  • Knowing when to stop, comment, compliment, and ask for clarification comes under conversational skills.
  • Joining an existing conversation and ending a conversation is also an art.

What is staying on topic? Which are the hardships? What are the skills?

In this blog, we are going to speak about one aspect of all the above-mentioned conversational skills. That is staying on topic, technically called topic maintenance. Skills involved for staying on topic are:

  1. Listening to what the other person is saying.
  2. No impulsive speaking. Waiting patiently.
  3. Reading body language and non-verbal cues.
  4. Turn-taking skills.
  5. Thinking of appropriate replies.
  6. Knowing what are replies, questions, and compliments or adding to the narrative.
Hardship faced by kids:
  • Some kids can be impulsive and interrupt the conversation. They would have difficulty waiting for their turn to speak.
  • Trouble understanding non-verbal cues and body language. They won’t understand whether another person is losing interest or trying to speak.
  • Getting stuck on one thought.

Treatment starts with what is difficult your child is facing. Whether they are having difficulty waiting for their turn. They may have impulsivity. Difficulty with thinking appropriate replies. Listening and reading body language. ST identifies these difficulties. The speech therapist applies tips and activities to teach these skills.

Tips and activities to teach prerequisite skills for staying on topic:

  1. Start by teaching basic turn-taking skills using block stacking or putting pieces of puzzles together. Any game teaches turn-taking.
  2. Make sure during this you are also targeting waiting. The child is made to realize his or her impulsive responses. Waiting should be reinforced. For instance, thank you for waiting for your turn. That was good of you to wait for your turn. Oh, that was very impulsive of you.
  1. Listening skills can be taught using fun games such as in and out. When the clinician says in, they jump in and when the clinician says out they jump out. A similar thing can be done with a different command such as up-down.
  2. Listening comprehension activity can be done by making them listen to a small para. Usually of 2-3 lines. Answering questions based on that. Increasing the para length and question complexity based on the child’s age and level.
  3. Another way to encourage listening is by making cue cards. It should have a picture of the ear and listen written on it. Reminding the child before the conversation starts to listen carefully. Reinforcing at the end. Thank you for listening. That was good listening on your end.
  4. Following complex commands also comes under listening activity.

Body language and different types of replies:

  1. Teach body language and verbal cues by enacting. Such as you can act confused and the child should name or identify what you are feeling. Alternatively, the child is enacting and you are identifying. In this way, if he is unable to express emotion through body language. It can be taught.
  2. Another activity can be through art and craft and drawing faces. Identifying what is used eyes or eyebrows or mouth to express disinterest, confusion or anger, etc.
  3. Teaching different types of replies such as what is a compliment, making sure they are giving one compliment to someone a day.
  4. Differences between different types of replies such as okay, asking the question, commenting, adding to the story, etc. Teaching these skills through enacting. For instance, someone says I had a bad day. Let them identify what would be an appropriate reply – saying okay or asking why, what happened, or saying oh, that’s terrible.
  5. Remember to do this in a fun and play way. Not in the form of teaching. Encourage and reinforce trying. Do not punish if unable to perform. Instead, model the expected response again.

Tips activities for staying on topic:

  • Once you know that the child has some idea of the pre-requisite skill. You can start having conversation-related activities.
  • Firstly, make cue cards on various topics. For instance, school, holiday favorite TV show, etc. child has to speak on a given topic for say 30s seconds or 60 seconds. If they move away from the topic, you can press a buzzer or ring. This will remind them. This activity can be done in the group as well as individual sessions.
  • Comments and questions: this activity can be done in group or individual sessions. You take up a topic. For instance, pizza, comment on pizza. For example – I like pineapple on my pizza. Each person in a group or you and the child take turns to comment something on pizza only. For example – pizza with tomato sauce is horrible. I like to have capsicum on my pizza etc.
  • Then the group or you and the child can ask each other questions related to that topic.
  • Have cue cards for reminders.
  • Doing role play activities using visual cue cards
  • You can use a train or ice cream building activity as an analogy. Let them know each train or ice cream scoop is a turn. If you speak out of turn or do not stay on topic, then the train may fall off. Use this to remind the child.
  • This can be transferred to another setting. Fading can be done by directly saying, hey we were speaking on holiday, I think you changed the topic.


To conclude, SLP supervision is required to carry out all these activities or tips. Remember to have fun and reinforce and encourage trying over perfection.

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