Often when I am brought into homes it’s because a child has yet to speak their first words. Parents are so anxious to hear that sweet voice talk to them and for some it can’t come soon enough. Although parents know I don’t have a magic wand, some seem disappointed that I don’t have a quick fix for them. But what I do have is many tips to pass along to parents to help them help their child as they begin to develop their communication skills. I also explain why their child may not be talking and help them become a speech therapist at home. So I have listed for you what I do have in my bag tricks; tips, advice and explanations of language development to help parents. May not be magic, but it works!
***I reassure parents that their child communicates with them in other ways than just verbal expression. Those first infant cries are communication. When your little one pushes the bottle away with his hand, he’s communicating with you. When those chubby little arms reach up and you respond by picking him up, he’s effectively communicating with you. Often if parents slow down and pay attention, they will pick up on more non-verbal gestures their child uses to communicate with them. Learning to communicate starts way earlier than when those first words are spoken.
***I remind parents that their child has to understand before they can speak. Receptive language (or comprehension of spoken language) is the building block to expressive language. Unless a word makes sense to a child, or represents something, they won’t have the desire to say it. So read to your child daily, several times, to introduce them to new words. Label objects in their environment and talk to them during daily routines. All this new vocabulary will soon be understood by your child, increasing their receptive and expressive language abilities.
***I teach parents how to approximate words for their child. When a child first says the word “bottle” they don’t articulate it perfectly. They most likely say “baba”, creating their own approximation of the word; an approximation that is as close to the adult model as they can get. Some kids aren’t able to approximate words on their own and need your help. When you say a word to your child, say it correctly, then repeat an approximation for them to imitate. Your model may be all they need to imitate a new word.
***I help parents create communication opportunities for your child. Put toys up where they can’t easily access them so they have to come to you and ask. This is your opportunity to model a word or gesture and encourage them to imitate it. Don’t automatically open a lid when they bring it to you, make them gesture or say a word first. With a little push, your child will learn to new gestures and/or words to replace pointing and grunting!
***I remind parents how important reading, singing and reciting nursery rhymes is to their child’s speech development. You can’t do these three things enough! All three have been proven time and again to increase the emergence of language expression and comprehension. Try singing the same song to your child at bath time each day, or when you ride in the car. Before you know it they will be singing along with you!
***I encourage parents to teach their child sign language. Research supports the early emergence of language skills when your child is first taught to sign. Children understand words sooner when a gesture is attached to them. And when they understand language they are more likely to use it to communicate their desires. Don’t feel pressure to sign perfectly with your child. The signs just need to be functional within your family and as soon as your child learns to say the word instead, they will stop using the sign. Read more here on how signing supports language development.
So if your little one needs some encouragement to communicate, try these tips. Even though I’m no fairy godmother, experience has proven magic can happen when parents follow through!!