Hey ya’ll. I’m feeling a little emotional while I write this one, because as a mother, as well as a speech-language pathologist, I know that some of you are reading this because you are worried about your child. Any parent out there all too well knows the pain of worry for their children, especially if they are concerned their child is not developing as expected. I’m glad you are seeking out solutions though, as opposed to hoping “it will pass” or “fix itself.” So let’s get to it 🙂
If you read the previous post about language development milestones and examples, you already know where your child’s language should be for their age on the developmental scale and have a good idea of what language looks like. If you didn’t read the previous post, please click here to see where your child falls on the language development chart. Today I am providing suggestions regarding everyday activities you can do at home in order to help your child if they are NOT talking yet.
Pick a few of these or do them all. The most important thing is to BE CONSISTENT. The sooner your child knows what you expect them to do, the less frustration and noticeable results will come faster!
Do they KNOW what word goes with what object/person/action? I put this first because it is the most important. Do a quick test of what they know (receptive language). Ask them to point to or look at (no talking required by child here) different people or objects. For example, say “Point to mommy,” “Point to daddy,” “Point to sissy,” “Point to the teddy bear” “Point to your bottle” or “Point to the dog”….whatever your child is exposed to on a frequent, daily basis that you would expect them to know. If they do not point at or look in the direction of the object or person that you asked them to, they may not KNOW the word that goes with that person or object.
IF they have trouble with the above task, this MUST be addressed first. Imagine what it would be like if someone said, “Veronica, I want you to walk around your house and tell me everything you see, BUT, you have to say each word in Latin.” Same concept. I have to know those Latin words in my head (receptive language-vocabulary) before I can say them aloud. IF you need to work on building your child’s mental vocabulary first, please click here to read about how you can improve your child’s vocabulary at home.
Write down a list of goal words for your child. Keep in mind, however, if your child has not been saying any words yet, their expressive language will start at the beginning point of the language development milestone chart. For example, if your child is 2 and they have not started saying any words yet, you need to set your goals for them according to the “one year old language development” area. This is not to say their language development will always be behind, but one can only begin at the beginning (that sounds like something the old school Willy Wonka would say!) If you haven’t already, check this post out to see the “Language Development Milestones” – scroll down because they are in the last half of the post.
Start with animal sounds. Animal sounds are predictable. Once your child knows what sounds the basic animals make (dog, cat, cow, pig, horse), they will know exactly what you want them to say when you ask them to make a dog sound. If you read each suggestion in this post, you’ll notice my word trend with “predictable” and “predictability.”
Make sure no one is “encouraging” your child not to talk. Make sure you or older siblings are not giving your child everything they want because they point or make a noise. I’m a speech-language pathologist and I catch myself sometimes handing things to my toddler when she points and grunts. If your child has been doing this and you start encouraging them to attempt a sound or word when they want something, they WILL GET MAD! But they will adapt 🙂
Music. Three reasons. FIRST, while singing, your air flows up through the larynx and out your mouth in a smooth, fluent pattern. We don’t have to articulate our words as much due to the constant airflow and we are primarily focused on maintaining the rhythm; singing is easier, in a lot of ways, than talking. SECOND, songs are predictable. There is no pressure to make a conscious effort to come up with your own words to say once you have the song memorized. Sing the songs with your child that you learned growing up: “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” “ABC Song.” THIRD, you want your child to know the feeling of a positive, verbal, social exchange. If your child attempts to sing with you by moving their voice up and down with you or gets a speech sound in there now and then, they are partaking in a form of a verbal, social exchange. There’s something about those positive social exchanges that makes us feel good inside and we want more of it; help your child crave those verbal exchanges.
Withhold items. As said above, be prepared for some frustration. If your child is pointing at an object out of their reach, encourage them to say the word while they look at your mouth. Even if they only produce one sound in the word you want them to say, that is a step in the right direction; reward them with the object. As time goes on, you can start asking more of your child, such as putting a few more sounds of the word in there.
Tap their chest. When you ask your child a question, immediately grab their hand and gently tap their chest as you say the answer. This clues them in that you want THEM to verbally reply. For example, if you pointed at a dog and said, “What’s a dog say?” Immediately afterwards tap their chest with their hand while you say, “Woof woof!”
Books. Pick a book that has a repetitive word or part in it for predictably purposes. For example, the book, “No, David!” is mostly the mother saying “No!” to her child. Each time you turn the page, wag your finger at the book and say, “No no!” After reading this book a bit, turn the page, don’t say anything, but just wag your finger and look at your child expectantly (they know that look!) and wait for them to say something (“no” is an easy word to say).
Tempt them. Hold up 2 items, one of the items being something they would definitely want, and ask them which one they want. For example, hold up a paper and a cookie. When they point to or look at the cookie, hold the cookie a little closer to you and say, “Say cookie.” Repeat this several times until they make an attempt. Even if the word comes out as “coo” or “oo-ee,” that is a great start.
Let them watch your mouth. Draw their attention to your mouth while you talk. Do you and your child often read books? Turn them around from time to time so they’re facing you while you read.
Make a big deal out of their talking attempts. Don’t do something you can’t do consistently and proceed with caution based on your child’s personality. Some children, especially as they get older, may get embarrassed if a big deal is made over something they did.
Use puppets or toys. Take a doll, for example, and make the doll pretend it is sleeping. Wake the doll up by saying, “Up!” or “wake up!” and then have the doll act really funny when it is “woke up” by your voice. Do this several times. Have the doll sleep again and once your child attempts to say something to wake the doll up, get some cackles from your child by making the doll act hilarious when it “wakes up.”
Limit screen time, whether that be tv, tablets, whatever have you. Don’t stone me ya’ll, cause I love a definite source of entertainment for my kids just as much as the next parent does and I take advantage of it – don’t abuse it though. Electronic sources of entertainment are not going to ask them questions and wait for a verbal answer. Mickey Mouse doesn’t know whether or not your child says, “Meeska Mooska Mickey Mouse” to make the clubhouse appear.
Set aside a scheduled time each day to focus only on activities or methods that will encourage your child to talk. I am fortunate enough to have a school system schedule and I know that I will be home most evenings with my kids. There are a lot of parents, however, that do not have this luxury. If your child goes to a babysitter or daycare, voice your concerns and goals for your child with their babysitter/caregiver. Ask them to do one or two small things from this list while interacting with your child.
Be animated. Make talking and producing sounds look like fun!
Associate motions with words. Get an object or begin an activity your child enjoys. Let’s pretend they enjoy playing with balls and trucks. Take the ball and say, “Boing! Boing!” as you bounce it. Then stand behind your child, place your hand over their’s, if necessary, and help them bounce the ball while saying, “Boing! Boiiiing!” Once you’ve done this enough times that they associate the bouncing motion with the word, help your child hold the ball in their hand like they’re about to bounce it, but DON’T. Wait until they make an attempt to say, “Boing,” then bounce the ball. If you need to, tell your child what to say.
Another example would be saying “mmmmmm” or “rrrrr” as you move a toy truck across the floor. Make the same noises as your child does it. Do this several times until your child definitely associates that noise with the truck. Next step is take the truck, set it in front of you, and wait for your child to make the truck sound. As soon as they make the sound, move the truck around like crazy!
Lose the pacifier or at least limit the pacifier to certain times of the day. I do NOT say this lightly, folks! My 21 month old still receives a bottle at night to put her to sleep. Not because she’s hungry, but because it calms her. I am, however, in the slow process of cutting that out. So why lose or limit the pacifier? The pacifier keeps their mouth occupied and the sucking motion is comforting. Kids learn quickly if they move their mouth around too much, like opening it to make a sound/attempt to say a word, their source of comfort is going to fall out of their mouth. Pacifier + mouth = reduced likelihood of talking. This is not a 100% guarantee to get your child to talking, but I have seen it work in several cases.
MY DISCLAIMER STATEMENT: These suggestions are only suggestions! If your child has not yet been evaluated by a speech-language pathologist and you have any concerns regarding their speech or language development, have them evaluated by a speech-language pathologist.
Please leave a comment below if there is something I have not talked about yet and you would like to learn more about, or if you have any questions or want to add input!