Anna Hinze, M.S., CCC-SLP
When your child is an infant, they do not have a need for spoken language in order to have their needs met; however, as we age, verbal communication becomes more and more important.
Below are a few key tips that will help you facilitate the development of your child’s verbal communication skills:
Position yourself at their level
When you speak to your child, lower yourself to their level. Making eye contact while you communicate with your child will help them develop both verbal and nonverbal communication skills.
Slow down and give them time to respond
Speak slowly, but in a normal voice. Use simple, short sentences and be sure to pronounce each word clearly. This is also very helpful for building your child’s vocabulary—the easier they can understand what you say, the easier it is for them to learn new words. Wait a few moments to allow your infant or toddler to respond, whether it be verbally or non-verbally.
Use your child’s interests to encourage them to speak
Observe your child to see what their interests are. Children learn best when they are interested in something. For example, if your toddler has a favorite toy truck, talk about what color the truck is, count the doors, point out that the wheels are round, and even have fun making car engine sounds together.
Reformulate your child’s words to clarify their message
If your child mispronounces a word or uses incorrect grammar, do not feel like you have to correct them. Instead, you can simply restate what they have said. For example, if your child points to a dog and says “daw woof,” you can reformulate his message by saying, “You’re right, the dog says woof!”
Imitate your child’s actions and verbalization's
Imitation games can help teach your child how to participate in give-and-take interactions at an early age. As early as when your infant begins to babble, you can imitate the sounds that they make. If your infant “drums” on their legs or on the table with their hands, you can mirror their actions. These kinds of activities help to teach infants and toddlers that communication is a two-way interaction, and it can help them learn to pay attention to their communication partner. Imitation of actions and sounds can lead to your child imitating words that you say. These are all stages of language development.
Turn the screens off!
Every minute that your child spends watching a screen is one less minute that they are actively observing and interacting with the world, their peers, and you. There is a proven link between early exposure to screen time and delayed development in young children (see links at bottom of page). Not only can screen time contribute to delays in speech and language development, but it is also associated with childhood obesity, sleep disturbances, and behavioral problems. Instead of handing your smart phone or tablet to your child, try one of these activities listed below instead. You may be surprised when you discover the interactions and opportunities to connect with your child that you have been missing out on!
Here are a few activities you can use to encourage your child to participate in verbal interactions:
· Go for a walk—Observing your surroundings when you are out and about is a great way to naturally facilitate verbal interactions with your child. You can label the colors of the cars you see, count the number of trees in yards you pass by, talk about what the animals you see are doing, and so much more.
· Have fun with words—Try saying common words in different voices or with different volumes. For example, if your child asks for a banana, try saying the word “banana” in a mouse voice, a lion voice, a horse voice, or simply a whisper.
· Learning new words—Children are inherently curious about the world around them. When your child discovers something new, such as a ladybug in the backyard, you can reinforce this new word in several ways. Try repeating the word throughout the day. You can draw or paint pictures of ladybugs together, purchase ladybug stickers, or even find a children’s book about a ladybug.
Language development can be quite the enjoyable adventure to go on with your children. Just remember—as their parent, you are their first teacher. Whichever way you choose to facilitate your child’s language development, don’t forget to have fun along the way!