Parent Strategies for Facilitating Language Development
There are many ways that parents can support their child’s learning and language development at home! Try these tips next time you’re engaging with your child, this could be during play, reading a book, driving in the car, or preparing a meal. Never underestimate the value of even 15 minutes of quality time spent with your child. Remember, you are your child’s first AND most important teacher!
Be face to face. When playing with your child, get down so you are at her physical level, eye to eye. Sit facing her when she is in her high chair. Sit or lie on the fl oor when she is playing on the fl oor. In this way, your child can see and hear you better, and the connection between the two of you will be stronger. Children love it when adults are right down at their physical
level! Plus, you will see your child’s focus and interests and will pick up even the most subtle attempts to communicate.
Use the 3:1 Rule. When talking with children it’s easy to fall into the trap of only asking them questions. “What color is the block?” “What’s this?” “What’s that?” ... While these types of questions can certainly help aid in other skills, when it comes to increasing language, it’s important to reduce the number of questions you ask your child and increase the number of statements you make. For every one question you ask your child, make three comments or statements. Set aside just a few minutes each day to intentionally practice using the 3:1 Rule when talking with your child!
Offer your child choices. Offering a choice between two options provides a valuable communication-partner strategy for children of all ages and abilities. By giving your child two choices you are providing a direct-language model while encouraging your child to produce a specific response. Make sure to include plenty of wait time to give your child the ipportunitity to process and respond. It might sound like this during snack time, "Do you want CRACKERS or APPLE? Do you want JUICE or MILK?" When we offer choices to toddlers, we're telling them that they have some control and their input matters! Even if your child isn’t able to use a word to tell you what he wants YET, he can show you by pointing or reaching to the one he wants. The next time you're in a situation with your child asking open ended questions and not getting anywhere, try offering choices!
Talk about what you are doing during everyday activities and routines. Research shows that young children need to hear about 21,000 words per day. When you use the same phrases and vocabulary with your child during everyday activities, your child will be exposed to familiar, repetitive vocabulary on a daily basis. Remember to WAIT after you say something to give your child a chance to communicate using actions, sounds, gestures etc. When your child hears familiar words and simple sentences in the same contexts every day, it helps to build his understanding of language.
Speak at or just above your child's current language level. Make sure to keep your language at or just above where your child is communicating. In doing so, you're modeling what comes next in language learning. For example, if your child is communicating using gestures, like pointing and waving, you would want to keep your language models at the single word level. If your child is communicating at the single word level, you would want to use 2-3 word phrases.
Repeat, repeat, repeat. Children need to hear a word up to 17 times before they start using it on their own. This means that you might use a word with your child many times before you child actually says the word himself. In typical language development, children's understanding of words precedes their use of words. This means that you child will understand far more words than he can actually say. By repeating words for your child in a variety of situations daily you are providing your child with more opportunities to hear and learn new words.
If you've tried these different strategies and your child is still not making the progress you'd like to see, contact a speech-language pathologist to see if your child may benefit from a comprehensive language evaluation. A speech-language pathologist can work WITH you to help your little one learn to communicate.
Adapted from Hanen Early Language Program, 2011. These tips are adapted from the Hanen guidebook, It Takes Two to Talk® (Pepper and Weitzman). For more information, please visit www.hanen.org.