If you’re a busy parent but you want to be intentional about using strategies to boost speech and language for your child, then these 8 tips are essential to know!
HOW DOES LANGUAGE DEVELOP?
Children learn language from listening to language. They’re like sponges- they absorb the language spoken around them by their parents, siblings and other people. That’s why children in France grow up speaking French, and children who grow up in Germany speak German. That might sound really obvious, but what it means is that there is no magic wand, and no secret shortcut to developing language- these strategies for boosting language are crucial.
It’s simple- it is the amount of language that’s spoken, and the quality of the interactions that gives a boost to speech and language development. By using these eight essential strategies, you can make sure you give your child’s speech and language a boost which will kickstart their academic and social skills- all of which is important to help your child achieve their best in life!
If your toddler isn’t saying much yet, why not check out my big book of 50 easy exercises to get your toddler talking?
WHY IS SPEECH AND LANGUAGE SOMETHING YOU NEED TO WORRY ABOUT?
Did you know that language skills…
- Are the common thread across all areas of life
- Are required across the whole school curriculum- language skills are even needed for aptitude in math and science!
- Gives your child a way to communicate so having good language means less tantrums and negative behaviors!
- Are needed for play and friendships which is a massively important skill for life.
- Are a protective factor against isolation, depression, and even engagement in the justice system!
- And that early vocabulary predicts academic achievement ten years later
If you’re convinced, read on to learn about eight of the most essential parenting strategies you can use to boost your child’s speech and language. It could be one of the most important things you ever do for them!
MAKING TIME FOR USING STRATEGIES
The best thing about these essential strategies is that they can all be woven into everyday interactions and routines. It’s so much more likely to be successful it you can make slight adjustments to what you’re already doing than if you’re required to do something completely different.
All of these strategies are natural and can be added to almost anything that you do throughout the day, like bath time or dinner time.
In fact, everyday contexts are the best time to work on language development because they do happen everyday and the language used in these times is about things that are happening in real life- it’s a fantastic opportunity for good quality interactions!
If you can form new habits within these everyday routines and use these strategies, you will be able to give a significant boost to your child’s speech and language abilities.
So here goes!
1. BOOST YOUR CHILD’S SPEECH AND LANGUAGE BY BEING FACE TO FACE
We learn new skills, including speech and language, by mirroring the people around us. Face to face interaction is the most important way to bond with your baby. It’s also one of the best strategies to boost speech and language! This face to face time is priceless, and is important from the moment your baby is born.
Babies soak up language when they are face to face with you; they will start to develop social and emotional skills.
There is a mix of research about young children being exposed to technology and screens. This is what it comes down to: there is no substitute for face to face interactions; we have to guard this time, and be wary of anything that might replace it.
So, what do you have to do during this time? Anything! Get to face level, get close, and have fun! Make your voice interesting and use facial expressions. Copy the sounds your baby makes. Sing and say rhymes and play peek-a-boo.
It doesn’t matter that they can’t understand what you are saying yet! They are learning about you and about the world around them.
When you are face to face, you are developing their later social skills, cognitive ability, and language skills. Ultimately, this will be the foundation for both work and play: educational achievement and relationships.
As your child gets older, you might need to make a little more effort to be face to face. But even if this means you sitting on the floor to play with them, it’s worth it.
By seeing your face, you are continuing to connect with them in the way that they need, and in the way that best contributes to their ongoing language development.
2. BOOST YOUR CHILD’S SPEECH AND LANGUAGE BY BEING A COMMENTATOR
Boosting your child’s speech and language requires them to hear lots of language throughout the day– it also needs to be good quality.
Labelling what is happening, what your child is doing, what you are doing, and what you see is a great way to tick these boxes.
We can get used to moving about tasks quickly and efficiently, juggling the kids, the dishes, and the laundry.
One of the easiest things you can add into your busy routine is to have a commentator mentality by adding language into your everyday experiences. As your child reaches for a spoon, you might say, ‘You want a spoon. Spoon.’ As you are washing your child, you might say, ‘I’m washing your arm. Now I’m washing your other arm!’
It’s important to model a whole variety of words. Don’t just name things, but describe them- use actions (jumping, eating, flying), locations (beside, behind, in front of), pronouns (he, she, they).
Your child won’t learn this word from hearing it once. As you repeat it (say it at least 2 or 3 times each time) in a variety of contexts and environments, your child will slowly build a good understanding of the word and all its nuances. Soon they will start to use it in their own language.
This small change is far better than a set of vocabulary flashcards. It is real life and you can talk about exactly what your child is interested in at that moment. They are far more likely to be engaged and to retain the words you have used when they are actively engaged like this than if you label a word on a card at a time of your own convenience.
3. BOOST YOUR CHILD’S SPEECH AND LANGUAGE BY GIVING THEM WAIT TIME
There is a fundamental human truth that I’m sure most of you can identify with.
If we don’t have to, we won’t.
For example, if I have a housekeeper who turns up like clockwork and cleans my house, then why would I ever do it for myself?!
The same is true for kids. You will have to set it up from a very early stage that you expect them to communicate with you. This is a small adjustment to your expectations but it is one of the easiest strategies you can use to boost your child’s speech and language.
Adjust your expectation to their level and expect a communication attempt at whatever level your child’s language is at.
The most important thing is to WAIT instead of rushing to meet their need.
If you hand your child a banana, but you know that they can’t yet open it, don’t anticipate it and do it for them, but look at them with an expectant expression on your face and wait!
If your child does nothing, you might continue looking expectant, and say, “open?” with an obvious question in your voice. Your child might copy the word, or they might just grunt. That’s OK! They have requested- they are communicating.
Repeat the word again- you could say, ”oh ok, you want it open. Open. Here you are- open.”
You can use this technique at any level. If your child uses single words but is starting to combine words together then gently adjust your expectations. Repeat, “open the…?” Expect them to ask using more words. If they don’t, wait for a few seconds and then give them the words, “oh, open the banana. OK, I’ll open the banana.”
Always use this in a positive way- keep it fun!! Never use it to the point where your child actually gets frustrated.
It’s so important that we expect communication and not anticipate every need.
4. BOOST YOUR CHILD’S SPEECH AND LANGUAGE BY GIVING CHOICES
Giving choices is another fantastic opportunity for you to feed in words to develop your child’s speech and language.
If you ask your child, “do you want a banana?” you are likely to get a mono-syllabic “yes” or “no” as a response. On the other hand, if you ask, “what do you want?” your child might not yet know the words to use to answer. If this is the case, giving a choice is a perfect balance.
If you ask your child, “would you like a banana or an apple?” you have provided them with the vocabulary that they need to answer the question.
You are helping them to experience success and you have also fed language in- each time you do this, your child will become more and more familiar with the vocabulary needed in different contexts.
Again, you can use this at different levels. It might be that your child can name lots of objects, but can’t yet describe them. In this case, if offering a toy or food, you could say, “do you want the big one or the small one?”
You have provided your child with the vocabulary that they need to answer your question successfully, and you are extending their language beyond a yes or no answer.
5. BOOST YOUR CHILD’S SPEECH AND LANGUAGE BY SABOTAGING AND BEING SILLY
The strategy of sabotage is one of my favourite strategies that will boost your child’s speech and language.
It’s called ‘sabotage’ because you are playfully sabotaging a situation to encourage your child to communicate.
It’s important that you do this both gently and playfully, without getting to the point where your child is frustrated or upset.
So how does it work? One example is sabotaging at snack time. You could give your child the cup but ‘forget’ to put the juice in it. When he protests, you can continue to act stupid and say, ‘what is it? What do you want?’
Your child might say the word at this point, or they might hold out the object to you, or just make a noise. It is important to take any communication as an attempt. Your expectations need to be realistic, but you are helping them to reach a level that you already know they can achieve.
With this in mind, your goal might have been for them to request an object by making a noise as this is something they are just beginning to do.
Or the goal might have been for them to request by using a gesture, or it might have been for them to use a single word because you know that they can.
You will know your child best, and know what to aim for. It might be that you say again, “what do you want?” or you might say questioningly, “juice?” and hope that your child might copy this. Or, you might say, “ohh you want juice. Juice. Ok here’s some juice.”
This strategy is silly and fun, and is very effective in helping children to be motivated to communicate more in a situation.
It is important not to ever make your child say something, or withhold an object until they do, especially if this is above their current level of communication.
Other ways that you could use sabotage include:
- Give your child a packet without automatically opening it for them. Wait for them to come to you to request this. Again, they might request with a gesture, a noise, or using words. You can model, “oh open.”
- Set out a race track but ‘forget’ to immediately provide the cars.
- When helping your child get ready in the morning, you might put one sock and shoe on and say, “OK, we’re ready- let’s go!”
- When they empty a bowl or cup, do not instantly refill but wait for them to communicate. You can model the word, “more.”
6. BOOST YOUR CHILD’S SPEECH AND LANGUAGE BY EXPANDING AND BEING ONE STEP ABOVE
Expanding is all about your language being one step above the language that your child is using.
You are showing them their next step, and with lots of repeating and modelling, in time they will achieve it. Keep raising the level and re-adjusting this strategy so you are continuously boosting your child’s speech and language.
You can start to use this strategy even before they are using any words. At the start, it helps to copy your child’s sounds and babble, and also to model lots of single words. When they point to the cat, say, “cat! It’s a cat!”
When your child starts to use single words, and they point at the cat and say, “cat”, you might reply, “Ooh a big cat” or you could say, “The cat is sleeping.” Slightly emphasise the new word, and repeat your statement two or three times. This is also a good time to teach your child different types of words- describing words, action words, pronouns.
Also remember that the little grammatical words are still important for your child to hear, even if they are not using them yet. It’s better for them to hear “the cat is sleeping” than “cat sleeping” as the second example is grammatically incorrect.
Even when your child is using full sentences, you can continue to expand their language. For example, if they say, “look! A big scary spider!” You could reply, “yes, the big scary spider is scuttling on the ceiling” or you could add a new idea such as, “yes, it’s a big scary spider. I wonder if he is scared of us.”
When you do this, you have started to extend the child’s thinking to consider things outside of the here and now- you are either providing more information (“that spider is called a xx”) or encouraging them to use their imagination.
When your child’s language improves, it is because you have expanded their language and fed in new words.
7. BOOST YOUR CHILD’S SPEECH AND LANGUAGE BY MODELLING WHEN YOU HEAR A MISTAKE
Modelling is one of the key strategies to boost your child’s speech and language when you notice that they are making mistakes or when these mistakes become obvious.
The mistakes might be normal for their age and stage of development, or it might be something you would have expected them to be using by now. Either way, modelling is the best thing you can do.
If your child says, “look, two horse!”
You can respond, “yes, two horses! There are two horses. Horses.”
By responding in this way, you have:
- Listened to your child and affirmed what they wanted to say.
- You have repeated the correct word a few times for them to hear.
- Allowed them to hear the correct version in a very relaxed way- you have repeated it and reinforced it.
- You have not put any pressure on them or on the conversation.
This is crucially important. Correcting your child draws their attention to errors; you are reinforcing their initial error by letting them hear it again.
Children learn when communication is positive and natural. Ideally, your child won’t even notice that they are being corrected!
Modelling Speech Sounds
This tip also works when you notice that your child misses out or mixes up speech sounds.
If your child says, “look, a nake!”
You can reply, “wow, yeah, it’s a snake. That’s a big snake. I like snakes.”
Again, it’s important to repeat the correct version a few times. Try to slow the word down and stress the sound a little, although still in a natural way.
By doing this, you have provided a fantastic model for your child at a time when they are interested, you have listened and affirmed and as a result this is a positive, natural experience for your child.
8. BOOST YOUR CHILD’S SPEECH AND LANGUAGE BY USING COMMENTS NOT QUESTIONS
Language is learnt naturally from the adults around is. It is supposed to be fun! This is one of the strategies to boost speech and language that is really, really difficult to do, although it sounds so easy!
Have you ever heard a parent-child conversation that sounds more like an interrogation? Do you ever notice a pattern of question after question? What did you do at school? Who did you sit beside? Did you play outside at lunch? What did you play?
The pressure of a question is much higher than a comment, and a child might start to feel uncomfortable and anxious. Often the adult will either get silence or one word answers.
Maybe you’ve seen an adult and child reading a book together, and the adult asks, “What’s that?” over and over again. It becomes a test for the child, instead of teaching them anything new. Either they know that it’s a giraffe and knew it before you asked, or they don’t and haven’t learnt anything!
Questions cause the conversational power to be on one person. Often we use it as a testing tool, or to squeeze language out (like the example above). This can cause children to switch off or become passive. And it isn’t providing a good language model for the child.
Instead, turn your questions into comments, feed language in, don’t squeeze it out, and teach, don’t test.
Give lots of wait time for your child to say something if they want, but without the pressure of a question. Then you will be teaching, not testing.
Start to notice the ratio of questions to comments that you use, and the effect that this has.
You can easily flip your question into a comment. Instead of asking, “what are you doing?” you might say, “Wow, you’re jumping in puddles!” If you’re reading a book, instead of asking “what’s the bear doing?” you could say, “look, the bear is eating a fish.”
See if you can make four comments before asking a question. And remember to give lots of wait time after each comment- count to at least five in your head. This gives your child a chance to join in the conversation if they want to. Often it’s when the pressure is off that kids will become really chatty and use lots of language.
Challenge yourself to make four comments before asking one question. You’ll notice a difference!
You are the most important person in your child’s life as they learn to speak and to understand what is said to them.
Your child will need to hear language modelled for many years as they learn to use it for themselves. The benefits of a strong foundation of language are huge and long-lasting!
Parents have an irreplaceable role in the language development of their child. Get into the habit of using these eight essential strategies that can be done within normal day to day life. You will see the boost that it gives to your child’s speech and language development.
Want a little more?
Grab your free copy of the Speech and Language Strategies Essential Cheat Sheets. Print off and use to help with these strategies to boost your child’s speech and language. Enjoy!
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