Today’s post was written by guest blogger, Eve Pearce.
For most parents, a child’s first word is a huge milestone – the first step in learning communication, language and the beginning of a whole lot of chattering. After the initial ‘mamas’ and ‘dadas,’ a string of other words usually start to flow but this isn’t always the case. Up to 6 million children in the United States suffer from some sort of speech or language disorder which can affect their ability to talk. Others may not have a disorder but simply take longer to develop their speech and language skills. Despite experts suggesting that toddlers will be at least three years old before being able to form short sentences, there are things that you can start doing much earlier on to encourage your child to talk. Here are some tips to help encourage your little one to learn language and what to do if your child won’t talk.
What if my child won’t talk?
It’s important to remember that children develop at different rates so comparing them to their peers isn’t always helpful. Sometimes there are simple reasons why a child doesn’t speak much. For example younger siblings can sometimes be quieter because they allow their older siblings to talk for them. Other times children may develop in physical areas such as crawling, walking and climbing more quickly and this detracts attention away from their interest in talking. But if you feel that your child has reached an age where they should be speaking more than they are of if you are generally concerned about a lack of response to your attempts to interact with them it could be worth seeking advice from a paediatrician or speech therapist. Unfortunately developmental delays in children do exist and conditions such as Apraxia, Dysfluency and ADHD are relatively common and all affect speech and language skills. Getting these diagnosed will help you get the professional advice you need in order to help your child move forward with their language.
Verbalize their feelings
Children communicate with their parents from day one through crying. Over time parents come to recognize the different types of cries and what they mean. As your child develops they will begin communicating in other ways – smiling, gurgling, throwing tantrums and whining. These are some of the more obvious signs but even facial expressions can give away what they are thinking or feeling. If you can verbalize their expressions then they will begin to associate these words with how they are feeling and know what they mean even before they are able to say them out loud. For example if she is smiling at her dolly you say ‘you look very happy today’ or if he is becoming frustrated with something ask him ‘why are you cross?’
It sounds silly but sometimes parents simply forget to talk to their babies. Many wrongly assume that a small baby is incapable of communication and talking is therefore pointless; but actually a baby becomes attuned to their mother’s voice while they are in the womb and talking to them will reassure them, comfort them and interest them even if they can’t understand what you are saying. Alter the pitch of your voice and sing songs. This will grasp their attention. They cannot respond in words yet but you will see from their smiles, gurgles and squirming that they are enjoying the interaction.
Read, read, read
Introduce books as early as possible. Your baby will probably not start to engage with them fully until six months onwards but reading helps them to associate pictures with words, follow stories and pick up on your expression and emotion as you read. It will help them to not only learn the words but recognize the things in the world around them and develop their listening skills too. Introducing sensory books with fabrics, noises and shapes is also a great way to grasp their attention and increase their interest in books. Similarly, do not feel you have to be totally led by the book at all times. Let the child explore the book at their own pace rather than forcing them to sit still and listen while you finish it conventionally. Developing an interest and love for books means developing an interest and love for language so you need to make it fun to hold their enthusiasm.
The reason many people talk to their children in ‘baby speak’ is simple – words such as ‘choo choo’ and ‘woof woof’ are more pleasing for a child’s ears and easier for them to say. As young babies it is ok to use this sort of language but as they grow up it means teaching them that actually a ‘choo choo’ is a train and a ‘woof woof’ is a dog, which is double the amount of learning for them. Some child experts believe that talking authentically from the beginning is the best way to help a child develop language skills. They will notice the difference in your tone and language when you speak to other people and wonder why they are being spoken to differently. There is no need to speak to your toddler in a pitch that ten decibels higher than your normal voice just in everyday conversation – this is not natural and yet you want them to learn and mimic natural behaviour and speaking. This doesn’t mean speaking to them in the same way you would speak to an adult; obviously you need to use simpler words and talk a little slower so that they can pick up on everything you say, but do not patronize them.
If anyone has any other helpful tips, please feel free to share them in the comments below.
We’ve heard from parents that our Vocabulary Builder program for 4-12 year olds has been helpful to them in encouraging their children to talk. Even if it’s their own native language, the colourful characters and games are a fun way to build up their confidence. Vocabulary Builder is available in over 100 languages.