6 simple ways to encourage your child’s language skills
Over the years, countless families have come to see me concerned that their little one is ‘not talking yet’ or ‘only has a few words’. Although this can be understandably worrying for parents, particularly when friends or family’s kids are taking great strides in their development, it’s often something speech therapy sessions can greatly assist with.
As a speech pathologist, here’s what I immediately start to think about when I hear parents voice these types of concerns:
Has the child’s hearing been assessed…
If a child has difficulty hearing speech sounds, it’ll be difficult for them to produce these sounds accurately. Even if they can hear different sounds in their environment, like a lawnmower, kettle or TV, a hearing assessment could be useful as different speech sounds are produced at different frequencies.
How is the child going with their developmental milestones…
Sitting, walking, first words. These are all considered important markers for any child’s development – although it’s important to note that what is considered in the ‘normal’ range can vary quite a bit. Are there any other areas of concern in terms of milestones? Asking these questions helps a therapist work out whether a child’s main difficulty is with their communication skills or whether they need to be referred onto another health professional such as an occupational therapist, psychologist or paediatrician to have a closer look at other areas of their overall development.
What is the child’s understanding like in activities that aren’t in everyday routines…
Parents often tell me that their child ‘understands everything I say’. But on closer evaluation, I sometimes discover that although the child has an excellent understanding of predictable activities in everyday routines e.g. put your shoes away or get your jumper, they may have a more limited understanding of language in activities that aren’t in their usual everyday routines e.g. give the apple to the girl; put the sheep on the tractor etc.
What does the child do to get their messages across…
Does the child point or use gestures? Do they hold a parent’s hand and bring them to what they would like? Do they try to communicate with words, but it’s difficult to understand what they’re saying?
While speech and language skills may still be developing, if there are any concerns a speech pathologist can work with a parent and child to explore alternative ways for the child to successfully get their messages across. For example, using pictures or Key Word Signs.
So how can YOU further encourage your child’s communication?
At Limestone Speech, our therapists use something called ‘Communication temptations’ to enhance a child’s communication skills.
The main goal with this approach is for your child to learn to communicate with you by either pointing, using a gesture or Key Word Sign, making a sound or using a word.
Here are 6 very simple ways you can incorporate these into your everyday routines:
- Make favourite items inaccessible
Place your child’s favourite things out of reach, but still within view. Put the items on a high shelf, on a benchtop or in containers with tight lids. Wait for your child to make some effort to indicate what they would like.
- Give small portions
At snack times, offer bite-sized or small pieces. Cut up grapes, banana or something they enjoy eating and only give one part at a time. Let your child know that there is more but only if they request it.
- Create the need for assistance
Give your child access to a favourite item that they need your help to enjoy. Encourage your child to seek help from you to wind up a toy, turn on the TV, open a container, or find something that’s missing, for example.
- Interrupt a favourite activity
Begin a favourite activity that you and your child can both participate in. Once you have begun, stop the activity and encourage your child to signal to you that they want to continue. e.g. stop a swing in mid-air.
- Offer your child something he or she doesn’t like
Offer some food or activity which you know they don’t like and encourage your child to tell you “no” in an appropriate manner, such as shaking their head, gently pushing the item away, verbalising or saying the word ‘no’.
- Offer a choice
Find two of your child’s favourite items. Hold the first item up for your child to see and describe it, then hold the second one up and do the same ie, ‘here is your truck and here is your robot’. Then wait. Expect your child to let you know which one they want by pointing, reaching or using a word.
When using the temptations, remember:
- Once your child has shown interest in an item (by looking at it, reaching for it or taking you to it) PAUSE and WAIT.
- Don’t immediately try to prompt a response. If you do this your child will simply learn to respond to questions or follow an instruction, rather than learning to INITIATE communication.
- Waiting increases the chance that your child will spontaneously communicate with you. Wait at least five seconds with an expectant look, raised shoulders and raised eyebrows. Let your child see that you expect something from them.
- If nothing happens, you can model the desired response back to your child in a conversational way using the target word. Show your child what they should do or say in a natural and conversational way and they’ll learn from your example.
- If your child DOES send you a message, either by pointing or using a gesture or a word, you should respond immediately by doing or saying something that lets your child know that you received their message.
If you live in the Limestone Coast area and have any concerns or questions about your child’s speech, communication or overall development give us a call and our friendly and experienced speech therapists will be only too happy to discuss your treatment options.
To book a time to chat with one of our therapists, simply click the button below.
Bianca Vanstone is the principal speech pathologist and founder of Limestone Speech, a clinic providing speech pathology services and support for school-aged children and their families living in the Limestone Coast region, South Australia. Prior to establishing her own private practice in 2014, Bianca worked in various paediatric speech pathology roles both in the United States and throughout Australia. Bianca has two small children of her own and is passionate about working with kids with complex development issues, particularly those with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum.