Ever heard the term “late talker”? Ever worry that your child isn’t saying “enough” words or doesn’t have a “large enough” vocabulary? Then you are 1 out of every 1 parent with these concerns (not research based). Waiting for your child to meet certain milestones can be scary and confusing; if you are concerned, talk to your pediatrician or reach out to a speech-language pathologist and remember that you are not alone.
In the meantime, there are a lot of strategies that you can use at home to support your little one’s language development– these tips can be applied to play and communication with ALL children in ANY environment. Give yourself time and patience in trying out these ideas; you may want to focus 10 minutes of bath time to one strategy or 5 minutes of meal time to another. Start small, and soon they will become more natural and intuitive!
Give your child 5-10 seconds of wait time to respond to your question/comment or to initiate communication
Wait time provides children with time to take in and process their environment and/or language being presented, then generate and execute their idea or message.
Watch what they do during this time; observe where their gaze goes and what they might be thinking about– use that to guide your next move.
Waiting also builds anticipation– try “ready, set…” or leave the last word(s) off of the song you’re singing and wait for your child to initiate or complete the phrase.
Another example of waiting for your child to initiate involves problem solving and self-advocating→ if something falls on the floor during mealtime, don’t reach to pick it up right away; if your child can’t open a bag of toys, don’t jump right in to open it; wait to see what your child does. Remember, the way children communicate can vary, and doesn’t always involve words! All of the following are valid initiation attempts →
Drops food on the floor:
Can’t open bag or container:
Reduce the number of questions you ask; rather, make a comment
Questions can cause unintended pressure and some questions may be too challenging for your child→ try commenting on what your child is thinking about (where are they looking or what are they playing with). Comments reduce communicative pressure, while also leaving room for a response.
Provide your child with two choices to help them respond to a challenging question
While you learned above that you want to limit your questioning, questions are still an important and natural part of how we communicate! Giving choices can reduce the pressure of questions while still eliciting a response. Feel free to give a silly or ridiculous choice→ laughter can make for the most meaningful interactions..
Use visuals to support your child’s understanding and use of language, such as pointing, gesturing, or holding up an object
While you’re giving a direction, asking a question, or making a comment, try gesturing along or showing an object or picture. You can also try pairing basic baby signs with words that are important to your child (e.g., more, eat, socks, blankie, doggy).
Helpful gestures/body language to pair with language:
When talking about past events (with more verbal children), it can be hardfor your child to recall and express their experiences. Try pulling out some pictures on your phone, one at a time, and show your child. See what they say just by seeing the pictures→ if they need a little help, you can talk about the picture (e.g., “It looks like you went on a boat!” then wait and see what they say).
Imitating your child’s language, including vocalizations, gestures, words, sounds, etc.
Imitating your child helps build engagement, sound awareness, and overall communication development. Children learn and explore language through imitation→ they imitate gestures, movements, animal and environmental sounds, speech sounds, words, sentences, etc.
It actually helps foster meaningful connection to reverse the roles! Imitating your child provides them with immediate feedback, expands and sustains the interaction, and shows your child the power of their language. It also helps build engagement and joint attention (i.e., the shared attention on an object or experience with another person).
GET SILLY with your imitation→ nothing is more of an attention grabber than a ridiculous face, sound, tone, or voice!
Use/imitate your child’s vocalization or utterance, then add one or more words to expand
Adding one or more words onto your child’s utterance is a great way to model expanded language and vocabulary without placing any communicative pressure on your child! It also gives you an opportunity to model grammar and/or the accurate speech sounds (see last two examples).
In the above strategy, “Imitation”, it explains how imitating can help build engagement → when you imitate or repeat what they said, they will be more likely to attend to your model for expansion!
Adult: “Hi daddy!” or “It’s daddy!” or “Daddy!”
Adult: “Mooo, says the cow”
Adult: “The birdy’s flying!”
Adult: “Look, a plane!”while pointing at the plane
Adult: “You’re all done eating”
Adult: “I want more carrots.”
Adult: “Yes, that’s your bottle!” while giving them the bottle
** Remember to use a variety of word types and forms, not just nouns, when expanding
** Make sure to add onto your child’s utterance using natural, accurate grammar→ avoid “telegraphic speech” such as “Put in” or “Rylie do” (see blog post on Simplifying Language for Little Ones)