11 Things You Can Do To Promote Your Child’s Speech Development

20 Jan 11 Things You Can Do To Promote Your Child’s Speech Development

11 Things You Can Do To Promote Your Child’s Speech Development

By Ruben J. Rucoba, MD

Parents spend much of the first year of their child’s life waiting for him/her to talk, and when that first word arrives, it’s a joyous event. I often get asked how to best promote speech development in infants and toddlers. There are many steps you can take to help your child learn to talk.

1. Talk to them: It’s really quite simple — the single most important thing you can do to promote language development in infants and toddlers is to talk to them. Any kind of talking is helpful: describe what’s happening in the sporting event you’re watching on TV or just narrate your day (“now I’m dressing you in the dress that Grandma bought for you”). Specifically, try to have conversations with your child. Of course, he/she won’t respond when you ask a question, but children need to learn the “give-and-take” of conversation. So ask a question and respond to her babbling.

2. Read: Read to your child every day. Read them children’s books, the newspaper, magazine articles, anything: when reading printed material, you use a much wider vocabulary and syntax, which helps language development. For toddlers, read interactively: ask them questions about what’s happening in the story. “How many cats are on this page? Let’s count them.” Studies have shown that when parents spend more time reading interactively to their children, the children have significantly higher language attainment.

3. Model speech: Children need to hear speech in order to imitate speech, so don’t revert to “baby talk” when talking to your infant or toddler. For example, don’t call a bottle a “baba,” which does not help the child hear or learn the correct pronunciation of words.

4. Sing: Singing is a good way to introduce new words, use gestures to accompany language, and is a fun way to promote speech.

5. Imitate: Young children love to imitate. You can help by imitating what your child already does, like making animal sounds. Then progress to imitate sounds from her environment (like “beep beep” or “zoom”) or imitate new gestures by singing songs like “The Wheels on the Bus.”

6. Parallel talk: Talk about what the child is doing or interested in. ”You are playing with a big truck. It goes fast. ZOOM!”

7. Sign: Using non-verbal communication like sign language actually enhances verbal skills, so teach your child basic signs for concepts such as “more,” “sleep,” and “thank you.”

8. TURN OFF the TV and other screens: There is no benefit to watching TV or other screens for children less than 18 months. And for those older than that, keep screen time to a minimum. Even so-called “educational” programming does not promote speech development at a young age. Multiple studies have shown a negative effect of television on child speech, partly because children learn a language much better from a live person than from a recording. Using special MRI images, one study published this month showed that preschoolers who watched 2 hours of screens per day had underdeveloped and poorly organized brains compared to preschoolers who are frequently read to.

9. Keep instructions simple and age-appropriate: In general, use lots of words and gradually use more sophisticated words, but when giving instructions, remember that young children can only remember so much. A 1-year-old can follow one-step directions (“Go get your shoes”), and an 18 month-old can follow two-step directions (“Go to your room and get your shoes”). For older children, ask them to repeat the directions to ensure that they heard and understand them.

10. Acknowledge emotions: Children often have very intense feelings, but don’t know how to express themselves. Acknowledge those feelings, and help your child verbalize them. “I know you are scared of the dark, and that’s normal. Let’s think of some ways to make it less scary for you.”

11. Talk to the fetus: If you’re pregnant, it’s never too early to start promoting speech development. Several studies have shown that a fetus can recognize her mother’s voice and that maternal speech prenatally may help develop postnatal speech.

To listen to Dr. Rucoba’s recent interview on BYU Radio about how to teach your child to communicate better, click here (Interview begins at 18:15).

*This is our first in a series of blogs about child and adolescent development. We have many topics planned, but if you’d like us to address a specific topic, please let us know by emailing us at pediatrust@pediatrust.com.

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