Talk to Your Infant and Toddler

How you can encourage development.

Many children begin understanding language and speaking their first words at their expected milestones. However, many children do not speak, or speak less than they should for their age. Below are language stimulation techniques recommended to help parents facilitate and expand their child's understanding of language and speech and language skills.

1. Play

The importance of play cannot be emphasized enough. Children love to play with all types of toys and play various games. Try to sit at your child's level while interacting and playing with toys; sit on the floor or at a small table and chairs. You can model the appropriate way to use the toys presented or do hand over hand/showing the child how to explore the toy appropriately through trial and error. Always remember to laugh, smile, be bubbly and use an animated voice.

2. Delay responses to gestures

Wait a few minutes to respond to child's non-verbal communication and then respond appropriately, in order to allow the child an opportunity to use verbal communication.

3. Talk

The importance of being vocal during your interactions with your child is very important! Talk about the here and now, and speak slowly. If the child is speaking in two-word combinations, use two-three word sentences when responding. Talk about everyday events/routines such as getting dressed and eating dinner. Use "self-talk" (what you are doing while child is watching)--for example, "Mommy's eating now." Comment on actions of the child ("parallel talk"-what the child is playing with, seeing, or doing), i.e. "Jeremy is eating," labeling common objects (i.e. "cup"), and describing objects throughout your play interactions and during everyday activities. Language and new vocabulary is best learned while doing something. 

4. Modeling

Provide a good model for your child to follow. For example if your child says: "baby hurt," you say "put a Band-Aid on it." Model words for your child, especially for their wants and needs. Modeling helps the child increase their understanding and use of words. Try to pair the words you say with a visual cue such as a picture or actual object. Speak slowly; use clear, simple and consistent speech. Speaking slowly will make it easier for your child to understand what you said to him/her. Make sure to provide pauses/time for the child to respond to what you are saying.

5. Don't use language to anticipate your child's needs or desires

Give your child the chance to make his needs known. Always offer choices before giving your child what he/she wants, and model the vocabulary at least three-five times, i.e. "Do you want a ball or the car?"  The child will learn that he/she must use language to get what he wants, and can't simply grunt or point. 

6. Set up opportunities for the child to be frustrated and have a need to communicate

Withhold or sabotage activities by holding all or part of a toy that the child wants, until the child uses approximations or words to request item.  

7. Use positive reinforcement

Always make your child feel good about speaking. Respond quickly to your child's efforts at speaking, and reward the attempt at communicating to you with verbal praise. Be specific, i.e. "good talking,"  "good for you that you said ___," or use a gesture such as a high five. Encourage and praise all verbal and non-verbal attempts (whether or not they are perfect) the child is using to communicate his needs to you.

8. Expansion

Expand what the child says; if the child says "car," you say "blue car." Generally, add one or two words to what the child has said to you, i.e. "baby" and you say "baby sleep" or "baby eat cookie."

9. Imitation

Begin with imitating actions, animal sounds, environmental sounds and nonsense syllables, and progress to syllables and words. A child usually will imitate a word before he can say it on his own spontaneously.

10.  Association

Supply the vocabulary for a new experience or word your child doesn't know. Your child may say ‘car" and then you add "has wheels like daddy's car."

11.  Follow the child's lead

Talk about what interests the child. Use a child's choice of toy to engage him/her in play; as he is interested in the toy, he will be more likely to listen to the language being modeled by the parent while playing with the toy. 

12.  Be an active listener

Listen to your child. Show that you are listening to what he/she has to say. This will show the child that his/her message is important to you! Encourage listening activities; a child has to learn to listen before he can learn how to speak. 

13.  Repetition

Repeating the label for objects or actions helps the child learn the new word so he can incorporate it in his vocabulary, making the child feel comfortable with it so he will begin to use it.

Always remember to maintain good eye contact! A child wants to talk to you when you are listening, smiling, interested, and asking questions. Give the child all the time he needs to express himself.  Every activity can be a language-learning experience.