Verbal Reasoning: Developing An Important Skill For Your Child’s Future

Why? Why not? How come? Kids ask us these questions all day long in order to get what they want. They are negotiating, and sometimes testing the limits. More importantly— they are using their verbal reasoning skills. It is a critical language skill which helps them to function within society.

Verbal reasoning can be defined as the ability to understand and reason using words. This skill enables us to use our language skills in order to negotiate and explain within our environment. Think about our day to day lives as adults. We are constantly asked to explain our reasons for doing something. It may be while making a return at a store, hiring a handyman to help in our home, dealing with a discrepancy on a restaurant bill, or even a discussion with a friend or family member. Our ability to understand the possible outcomes and then use our language in order to negotiate our way to the one that is preferred is not only a life skill; it is also a skill that sets us apart from other species.

Verbal reasoning is taught every day in elementary school and up to the college level. These skills are taught through word problems, role play scenarios and critical thinking exercises. The skills are tested on NY State Regents exams, the SAT and GRE. Clearly they are important, but how do we know when there is a problem, and how do we teach it?

As a Speech Language Pathologist, I am always assessing a child’s verbal reasoning skills during both structured and non-structured tasks.

For a young child I do this by looking at their understanding of words and phrases, their ability to draw conclusions from incomplete sentences, their ability to identify an incorrect statement, or their ability to problem solve or provide an alternative idea when needed. There are many ways I do this. For example, I might hold out a green crayon to the child and say “here is your purple crayon”. Something else I may do is throw the ball up on top the cabinet while we are playing and say, “Oh no! What do we do?!” While these two tasks may seem like I’m just being silly, the child’s responses will tell me a lot about his or her verbal reasoning skills.

For an older school aged child I am looking into their ability to comprehend the message, assess the possible outcomes and then to use their language in order to explain or negotiate their way to the better outcome. This may be done with a reading comprehension exercise in which they are asked to provide and explain alternative endings of the story, or a narrative exercise in which they are asked to tell a story with an appropriate beginning/middle/end sequence.

In all children, I am looking for their ability to comprehend the words, infer the message, and then use their language in order to navigate the situation.

As with any skills our children are learning at school or in therapy, it is important to have carryover at home. We need to make the best of each teachable moment in order to expand their knowledge and learning.

One way to help your child’s verbal reasoning skills is to respond to some of your child’s requests with a simple phrase –“Give me two good reasons why….”

For example, when your child asks for an extra treat you can ask for two good reasons why they should get it. When your child wants to play with the iPad, ask them for two good reasons why they should get it. When your child wants a new game or toy, ask them for two good reasons why they deserve it.

Initially, especially if they are young, the reasons can be simply “because I love you,” or “because I am a good girl/boy.” As they get older however, and as their language skills progress, the reasons can become more advanced.

For a child ages 3-5, the reasons should be more like “because I was a good listener,” or “because I followed the directions.” For a child ages 5-10, the reasons should be more about a situation in which they found success, such as “because I completed all of my homework,” or “because I got an A on the spelling test.”

If your child has difficulty answering these types of questions, or if the answers don’t seem to make sense given the situation, then your child may be struggling with this critical skill.

If you are concerned with your child’s verbal reasoning skills, you should consult a Speech Language Pathologist who has expertise in developing verbal reasoning skills. However, even if you are not concerned it does not hurt to practice verbal reasoning skills at home. This will help your child improve their ability to negotiate within their environment and use their language.

Helping them with verbal reasoning will also bring them a better understanding of their successes, and develop a deeper understanding of cause and effect. It will help them to know that they have to give in order to get. They have to demonstrate good behaviors in order to be rewarded. Overall, it is an invaluable skill that will not only be tested on standardized tests, but also in day to day life.


Isa Marrs is the Founder and Executive Director of the Where I Can Be Me® social skills program. She is a board-certified speech-language pathologist who specializes in pragmatic language (social skills) disorders in children. Read More