Seeing your child reach their developmental milestones is a rewarding and exciting time for parents. But when they are slow to develop language, it can leave one feeling worried and wondering what to do. This often can lead to pressure, not just pressure we as parents put on ourselves, but also pressure that we place on our child by asking too many questions or telling them to say specific words. Unfortunately, these techniques do very little to kindle the language learning flame and can often backfire leading to frustration of both the parent and the child.
Let’s learn 5 tried and true, easy to use strategies instead!
1. Recognize your child’s communication attempts.
Communication is so much more than just spoken words. Often as children learn to communicate, they use non-verbal communication first. Non-verbal communication can take on many forms, such as using gestures like reaching and pointing, or moving into proximity of wanted items, or simply looking back and forth between you and a wanted item.
When we take the time focus on communication and not just words, we can start to understand their communication attempts and acknowledge them.
2. Put words to their messages.
Once you can recognize your little one’s communication attempts, you can interpret their messages by modeling simple words that would make sense for them to use in the context when they are ready.
For example, if your child sees juice on the table and looks at you and then back to the juice, you can point and model the word juice. This reinforces your child’s communication, helps to build understanding, and provides them with a word that they can imitate and later use on their own to request juice.
3. Create verbal & play routines.
Children learn through repetition, and repetition is easy to embed in play. When you create a routine in your play and use the same language each time, you create predictability. As your child is more familiar with a routine, they are more easily able to take turns and use language in those routines.
For example, let’s say you are stacking blocks. Every time you finish stacking a tower of blocks, you can model, “ready, set” and add a pause before you say, “go”. You can use this verbal routine in many activities, such as when blowing bubbles, pushing a car, rolling a ball back and forth, or when playing a game of tickle. The idea is that with the frequent modeling of simple routine language, your little one will start to predict the word “go” during these play routines and will start to fill in the word when you create the opportunity by adding a pause for them to do so.
4. Model single words & wait.
When we model single words, we create an opportunity for our kiddos to imitate us. By modeling single words, and then waiting with an expectant look when our kids want something, we can capitalize on their motivation thus increasing the likelihood that they may imitate our word.
For example, if you are playing with bubbles, you can model the word “bubble” and then pause for a moment to see if you child will attempt to say, “bubble”. If they don’t imitate your model, that is okay. By modeling the word bubble every time before you blow, your child will eventually learn to say the word “bubble” when she wants you to blow more.
5. Imitate your child’s sounds and actions.
Children learn through imitation and one of the best ways for children to start imitating us, is for us to start imitating them! You can do this by imitating the sounds you hear them say, as well as any gestures or actions they make. This not only grabs their attention and gets them engaged, but it also encourages them to make more sounds and use more actions or gestures which is a great first step towards saying first words!
Now, let’s put it all together to see how these strategies can work together. Let’s say you are stacking nesting cups on top of each other. Your child reaches for a cup, and you recognize their non-verbal communication and model the word “cup” to pair words to their request. You then take turns stacking the nesting cups on top of each other, while creating a verbal routine by saying, “on” each time you stack a block. Now that your child is actively engaged and can anticipate the words used in this routine, you insert a pause as you lift the cup to stack it before you model the word “on” again. This pause creates the opportunity to your child to imitate you when they are ready. As you finish your tower, you see your child gesture towards the stack to knock them down, so you join in my imitating their actions and together you make the tower fall.
Let me know which strategies above have worked well for you.