Sabotage, Silliness And Trickery

Disruption is a proven technique for creating engagement with your child. We've provided some useful tips to create engagement through changing what's expected.

Unexpected ways to get kids talking

Have you ever heard the phrase “man bites dog”? It’s a saying in journalism, meant to illustrate how the unusual, infrequent event tends to make a better headline than an ordinary, everyday occurrence. Something is considered more newsworthy — or at least more notable — if there is something unusual about it.

The same principle is at play when teaching children to listen and talk. It’s not uncommon for children to disengage when routine becomes a rut. For children who are deaf or hard of hearing (D/HH), communication attempts can be frustrating at times, and checking out is tempting. Getting little ones to participate in conversation can be a bit like a game of chutes and ladders —it takes strategy, work-arounds and good old fashioned gamesmanship needed to produce the outcomes you’re working towards. Highlighting the unusual can help break through. 

One proven method to increase engagement is with a little disruption. Disruption is a disturbance of routine — something that interrupts an event, activity or process. Interrupting the run-of-the-mill creates opportunities for greater attention and interaction. When working with children who are D/HH you can set up situations that cause this kind of disruption, making a child more likely to communicate. 

Sometimes called “communication temptations” or “environmental sabotage,” these techniques create opportunities for conversations with a twist. 

Arrange the environment so that a child is encouraged to ask for what he or she wants. You might…

  • Give your child paper to draw on and “forget” to include a crayon, so that they will point out your mistake.
  • Put a sock and shoe on only the child’s left foot and proceed to go outside, prompting the child to request their other shoe and sock. 
  • Put an object you know your child will want within view, but out of reach — tempting them to ask for it. 

One proven method to increase engagement is with a little disruption. Disruption is a disturbance of routine.


Small children love being silly, and particularly enjoy laughing at the adults they love. Some examples of employing a playful prank to spark conversation might be…

  • Putting your socks on your hands and saying, “Is this where these go?”
  • When baking with a slightly older child, you might hand them an empty box of brownie mix or put a whole egg in the bowl without cracking it first

These silly scenarios create opportunities for your child to use their spoken language skills to verbalize problem solving, state what the issue is and what needs to happen. The ability to express their own thoughts and ideas are critical skills to becoming a collaborative problem solver. 

Disruptive tactics are always meant to be communicated with a spirit of fun and playful mischief — never in a way that is mean-spirited or upsetting. Children love when the unexpected happens — and disrupting their expectations can really give the child something to talk about!