Good evening, everyone. Speech-language pathologist/momma here. A while back I did a post about Everyday Activities to do at Home to Help Your Child Start Talking, in order to teach parents how they could help their child start talking. Today is for those of you who have a child that is talking, but are maybe only saying one or two words a time, when they should be stringing more words together. The number of words your child says in one spoken message is referred to as “utterance length” or “length of utterances” by us speech-language pathologists. You’re going to see this term again!
SO WHAT SHOULD MY CHILD’S UTTERANCE LENGTH BE RIGHT NOW?
AGE 1: Saying a few words, such as “mama,” “dada,” “no
AGE 2-3: String 2 words together, such as “no want” or “want eat”
AGES 3-4: String 3-4 words together, such as “I want play” or “I want cookie.”
AGE 4-5: Be talking in sentences, such as, “Can I have a cookie?” or “Can I go outside and play?”
Something important to note is, if your child is a “late talker” or has already been identified as having an expressive language delay by a speech-language pathologist, their expressive language is naturally going to be behind. For example, if your child is 3 and has just recently began talking, they may only be saying 1 word at a time or just 2 words at a time. The important thing is, THEY ARE TALKING! Just help your child keep moving forward from there.
METHODS AND ACTIVITIES TO DO TO HELP EXPAND YOUR CHILD’S LEGNTH OF UTTERANCES
Make a goal according to your child’s starting point. If your child is saying only one word at a time, make a goal for them to say 2 words at a time. If they are saying “cookie” when they want a cookie, the goal for your child would be to say, “want cookie.” As your child’s length of utterances increases to 2 words at a time without you having to jump in and intervene, the goal will change to producing 3 words at a time.
Tap or Clap. If your child says, “cookie,” take their hand, and each time you say a word, tap their arm simultaneously. For example, “want (tap at the same time you say the word) cookie (tap).” Apply the same concept to clapping if you would rather do that. Basically, any movement paired with the talking as long as the movement is performed at the same time a new words is produced!
Withhold items. Apply the technique above while withholding. Do not give your child the item until they have attempted to say the words you are saying. That sounds mean, but it’s tough love ya’ll! The words do not have to be said as clearly as you say them, but we want them to be at least trying to get that word in. If it is the beginning stages and you try this several times and you feel in your gut that your child is trying and just not able to do it YET, give them the item and continue attempting this method.
Be consistent. If you have read any of my other posts, you have seen that phrase a million times! But that’s because it is crucial for your child’s speech and language success. No matter what methods you use to help your child’s speech and/or language improve, remain consistent. They WILL get it. Be patient with yourself and them.
Smash Play-Doh. Make some balls of Play-Doh (make a bunch!) and have some pictures or toys close at hand. Show your child how you smash a ball of Play-Doh each time you say a word. For example, have a picture of a bear and be ready to say, “I see a bear.” There are 4 words in that sentence, so you will need 4 balls of Play-Doh. Or if your child is working on saying 2 words at a time, have 2 balls of Play-Doh ready for your child to smash when you encourage them to say, “see bear” or “big bear.” If you want to check out some pictures, check out the links below.
Expand on what they say. If your child says “drink,” EXPAND on what they said while putting emphasis on the target words by saying, “You WANT A DRINK? Say WANT DRINK/I WANT A DRINK.” The all caps words are the words you would emphasize.
Tempt them. Put something they REALLY want within their sight, but out of reach. Use one or more of the above methods to encourage your child to request the item using the # of words you are aiming for them to use.
Singing. Music/singing taps into a different area of the brain from your “speech center.” Children can often say words more easily while singing, as opposed to just normal talking. Pick a phrase for your child to sing. For example, if your child is having trouble saying “want cookie,” show them how to sing “want cookie.” Over time, gradually fade the “sing-song-y” voice to a more “normal” way to talking.
Visual and verbal reminders. Over time, you will want your child to independently increase their utterance length without you having to withhold, tap, etc. Use a visual or verbal reminder consistently, so your child will know exactly what you are wanting them to do. A visual reminder could be as simple as making a “tell me more” gesture (the one we sometimes use when we want someone to hurry up and get to the juicy part of a story) and the verbal reminder could be as simple as saying, “Use more words” or “tell me more.”
The list above was not very long, but that’s all it really takes in order to help your child string more words together. It will take time for your child to get to the point you are pushing them to, but as long as you are consistent with what you do and what you expect your child to do, it will be effective!
The great thing about working on improving your child’s language, is EVERYTHING offers a new language learning opportunity. Any of the above methods and activities can be used with any activity you and your child do together. While playing blocks, for example, if your child is wanting your red block and they say, “want,” use one of the methods above to encourage them to say “want block” or “I want your block,” depending on their utterance length goal.
My Disclaimer: If you have any concerns about your child’s speech or language development, have them evaluated by a speech-language pathologist. Anything I have contained in this blog post or any other posts are just suggestions. Remember to follow your gut instincts and continue working with your child while you are waiting on that evaluation or while they are receiving speech-language therapy!
Are you trying any of the above methods with your child? Have you found something that works well for your child that another parent may benefit from reading about? If yes to any of these questions, please leave a comment below!