It’s no secret that of all the influential individuals in a child’s life, none have a greater impact on speech and language development than the parents. Each and every interaction between parents and baby sets in the place the building blocks which will eventually lead to a unique set of communication skills being established, reinforcing the importance of healthy and consistent interaction during baby’s developmental years.
But while it’s common knowledge that children of all ages should have their linguistic development nurtured by their parents, it’s often unclear as to how this should be approached in accordance with the child’s age. When should baby talk be knocked on the head? How early should a parent begin correcting baby’s mistakes? When should a parent start asking questions? These are all examples of the kinds of questions put to speech and language therapists each and every day and are both valid and important to clarify.
The following breakdown could therefore prove invaluable:
0 to 24 Months
During baby’s earliest years, some of the most helpful tips, approaches and activities include the following:
- Encouraging the repetition of monosyllabic expressions and vowel sounds, like ‘ba’ or da’ for example.
- Use plenty of strong facial expressions and embellished changes in voice pitch/tone to make emotions, questions and other specific communications more obvious.
- Repeat what your baby says or attempts to say while making eye contact to confirm that their communication has been received and appreciated.
- Nurture non-vocal communication by encouraging hand claps, pointing, reaching out for hugs and so on.
- When going about any day-to-day activity like changing, bathing or feeding, talk baby through absolutely everything you’re doing step by step.
- Point out colours and count anything baby comes across out loud – the earlier they begin hearing numbers, the better.
- Practice gesture use as consistently as possible as this can be a powerful language teaching aid.
- Bring animal sounds into sentences being sure to give them meaning and context – “The cow says moo, the cat says miaw” for example.
- From birth and throughout childhood, reading to your child can be extremely beneficial and should ideally be done on a regular basis. During the earlier years, be sure to encourage interaction by asking “who is this” or again “the cow says moo” when pointing out pictures.
24 Months to 4 Years
As your child gets a little older, it’s important to modify and adapt the speech you use accordingly in order to nurture their growing communication and language skills.
In this instance, between 24 months and 4 years you should be looking to:
- Ensure the language you use when speaking to your child is correct in a grammatical and pronunciation sense – no baby talk or made up ways of speaking.
- Continue repeating everything your child says to you, but in this instance repeat it back to them with any corrections.
- Make a list of your child’s favourite things – toys, games, colours, cartoon characters etc. – and build a scrapbook of pictures. This can then be used as a helpful game by encouraging them to group similar pictures together, such as foods, vehicles, people, colours and so on.
- Help build an understanding of both questions and concepts by asking an array of simple questions with yes or no answers. “Is your name Alex?” or “Is the dog blue” for example.
- Give the child a choice when it comes to simple everyday items – ask if they’d like an apple or an orange, or whether they’d like to wear a white or red t-shirt.
- Use songs, rhymes and simple tunes to help the child memorise various linguistic elements and begin making sense of them.
- Go through photographs of familiar and unfamiliar people, places and objects while highlighting content of importance.
From 4 to 6 Years
Once a child reaches pre-school age it is natural to assume that much of the teaching process will be taken over by the professionals. However, there’s still a great deal any parent can do to help build superbly strong language skills for life, including the following:
- Always pay attention when your child is talking and never simply dismiss their speech as unimportant.
- Communicate the importance of paying attention when you are speaking to your child – full eye contact, sitting still etc.
- Encourage conversation rather than simply lecturing – ask lots of questions and give time for your child to respond.
- Bring new words into the conversation every day in order to help build their vocabulary.
- Ask your child to take you through his or her choice of activities step by step – let them explain to you how to use Lego, how to play their favourite game or anything else along similar lines.
- Involve them in simple chores – putting toys away for example – and have them talk you through the process.
If at any time you suspect that your child’s speech and language development may have hit a turbulent patch or appears to be progressing slower than you believe it should be, reach out to a professional speech therapist for advice.