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Help Your Child Respond to His/Her Name Through Positive Associations

May 17, 2022

Here are some ideas for how you can increase your child’s responsiveness to his/her own name.

Help Your Child Respond to His/Her Name Through Positive Associations

Dale Carnegie said: “Names are the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” I agree, but there is much more to it. Parents take great care in choosing their child’s name; initially it may reflect their own personalities or desires for their children. For example, parents often give their children meaningful names like “Faith” or “Hope.” 

Only later will a child come to identify or associate themselves with their name. What will the association be? A sweet sound motivating your child to respond, or avoidance? In order to better understand the process, a look back at the initial stages of development may be useful. 

The Mayo Clinic reports that a fetus can hear sounds and may recognize their mother’s voice 23 weeks after conception.1 Auditory development continues throughout the remaining weeks. Once born, a baby will typically receive a hearing test before discharge (or within three weeks). Assuming a baby’s hearing is intact, by six or seven months, they should be able to follow sounds or respond to their name.

Responding to one’s name is one of many important milestones that children are supposed to reach. As a matter of fact, not responding to one’s name is typically a red flag often identified in children with autism. However, it is important to note that children vary in their development, so it may not necessarily indicate a developmental delay or disorder. 

I have observed several children with perfect hearing display inconsistent responding simply for the sake of avoidance. Early on, children develop associations between words and other events which follow (positive or negative). Studies have confirmed higher rates of responding to words that have a positive connotation.2

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Use affirmations when calling your child 

Ever notice a child respond to their name following “ice cream” or some other treat? Yet, the same child may ignore the speaker when hearing their name called right before bedtime or some other non-preferred task.

Children are very perceptive and quickly catch on to the context in which their names are used. So rather than wait for concerns to surface, I urge parents to set their child up for success early on. This means once you have decided on your child’s name, whether in the womb or after birth, take steps towards creating positive associations or pairings to your child’s name. 

One way is to repeat your child’s name with affirmations or praise, such as, “Rose, you have a beautiful smile”, “Lily, mommy loves you so much,” or “Matthew, you’re eating so well.” The benefits of receiving affirmation are well-documented, so it only makes sense to pair your child’s name with positive statements and a pleasant tone.

By pairing your child’s name with a pleasant tone, affirmation, or praise, you are creating the initial positive experience your child will associate his/her name with, thus increasing the likelihood of a response. 

Pair your child’s name with a preferred activity

 Try pairing your child’s name with a fun activity: “Matthew, it’s tickle time.” Again, the association is positive and fun. A child who frequently hears their name alongside what they find to be positive or pleasurable will begin to look forward to hearing their name and be motivated to respond in anticipation. So in essence, you as a caregiver are creating a pattern of responding. The benefits of increased response from your child will go a long way and will also be the foundation for other skills, such as the ability to follow directions.

Now, I understand if the recommendations seem unnatural or disingenuous. However, the effort will produce long-lasting benefits. Of course, there will be times when as a parent, you will have to call out their name to deliver an instruction or reprimand. However, by that time, a pattern of frequent responding will have been ingrained, making it easier to gain their attention.

Keep in mind, if a child is not in the habit of giving their full attention upon hearing their name, the rest will fall on deaf ears. In addition, your child will have gotten used to hearing their name followed by affirmations and praise, making it easier to associate your requests, directions, or reprimands with happy feelings and experiences. 

So, along with careful consideration of your child’s name and all that you want it to mean, carefully consider the initial words that follow. Phrases of affirmation, love, and praise just might make all the difference in your child’s choice to ignore or love hearing the sweet sound of their name.


  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/fetal-development/art-20046151#:~:text=Week%2018%3A%20Baby%20begins%20to,might%20begin%20to%20hear%20sounds
  2. Smith R, Michael J, Sundberg ML. (1996). Automatic reinforcement, and automatic punishment in infant vocal behavior. The Analysis of Verbal Behavior, 13:39-48. doi: 10.1007/BF03392905. PMID: 22477109; PMCID: PMC2748497

This article was featured in Issue 126 – Romantic Relationships And Autism

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