10 Tips to Promote Speech and Language Skills in Your Child
By Karin Howard, M.A., CCC-SLP
The communication skills of a newbon are astonishing. In fact, speech and language development visibly occurs immediately after birth. Moments after the birth of my daughter, I looked into her eyes and said "Welcome, Rebekah. We have all been waiting for you." Then, through body language, she communicated back to me. Searching with her little mouth she instantly and non-verbally expressed that she was hungry. As she began to nurse, I knew that we had begun to communicate.
Research in Speech and Hearing Sciences recognizes the communication skills of newborns and even the developing fetus during the last trimester of pregnancy. Nonetheless, parents tend to concentrate on the physical growth of their young child as he or she develops. While physical development is very important, communication skills are equally important. In fact, these two areas of development are interdependent for a healthy child.
The following are ten ways you can nurture the five different areas of speech and language development in typically developing infants and toddlers.
1) Eye contact. When communicating with your child, look at his or her face and eyes as often as possible. This helps your child learn that it is appropriate to look at people during communication. Children learn a lot about you through facial expressions and acquire articulation skills by watching the movement of your mouth.
2) Taking turns. Talk to your child and then pause to give them a moment to verbalize. This teaches them the art of turn taking. This skill can also be accomplished during play, using objects and toys.
3) Give your child space. When your child is trying to communicate with you and you know what they want, give them a few seconds before you instantly meet their needs. This will give them the opportunity to vocalize (coo and babble), point, or attempt a word.
4) Give your child choices and then let them express their choice by pointing, vocalizing, or attempting words. The feelings of confidence a child gains by expressing their own choice are building blocks for further exploration of expressive language.
5) Get your child to follow instructions. Start with simple requests that only involve one element, such as "smile" or "kiss." Then increase to two elements when one element becomes easy for your child (i.e. "Hand up," or "Touch your nose," and so on).
6) Read simple books to your child with one or two pictures on each page. Ask them questions that can be answered verbally or by pointing to the correct picture. Try not to put too much pressure on them. If your child does not respond after about 10 or 15 seconds, model the answer for them with a positive tone of voice.
7) Reinforce and demonstrate. If your child produces a verbal attempt that resembles a word, praise them with a pleasant tone of voice and then model the word that you think they attempted. For example, if the child says "ba" for ball, say "You said ball. Yes, it is a ball!"
Explore. There are wonderful opportunities to model vocabulary out in the community. A simple trip to the market can be a great chance to name items for your child.
9) Observe how often other people understand your child's speech. This will give you an idea of how clear his or her articulation really is (parents usually understand their children more than an outside listener). Don't worry if your toddler is not producing all the sounds in the English language. Many sounds may not develop until four years of age or later. However, you should consider consulting a speech pathologist if it is extremely hard to understand your child's speech at 3 years of age.
10) Articulate your words clearly when you communicate withh your child. Speak slowly and remember to look directly at your child's face.
While speech and language development varies with each child, there is no question that positive daily involvement from a parent and/or a loving caregiver makes the process much smoother. You, the parent, are the "super model" for your child's speech and language development. Taking time to put these tips into action can give you a thoughtful approach as you interact with your amazing little communicator.
Karin Howard is a practicing speech/language pathologist in Los Angeles. She has taught "Mommy and Me" classes that emphasize speech and language to aid parents of typically developing infants and toddlers. She is also the creator of "Exploring Language through Song and Play," a CD set with an accompanying lyric and activity book. You can learn more about this CD set here. There is also a Buy Now button on the upper right side bar of this website if you wish to purchase this CD set.