We all want our children to learn and excel in life. As a Speech Language Pathologist, I am often asked by parents, “What can I do to help my child communicate?” Whether your child is meeting developmental benchmarks or not, you can maximize their skills using some simple strategies. The following steps should help you and your child learn and grow.
1. Play To Learn. Children learn through play so get down in the floor, in the playhouse or whatever it takes to spend quality time with your child. Play is truly a child’s “job”. Don’t forget to include them playfully in everyday household routines as well, such as cooking or cleaning routines that will teach them about life.
2. Focused Attention. Show interest in whatever your child is doing rather than what you think is important or interesting. Joint attention, the act of two or more people attending to the same activity, is an important step toward communicating with others.
3. Modeling. Model desired actions and words by calling objects by name, using words for your actions or the child’s actions.
4. Simplify your words. While it is true that children learn from your models, a child may not fully understand your “adult speak”. Listen to your child speak (if they are speaking), and use speech that is at or just above their current level. For example, if your child uses single words, say those single words back and add one more word. If your child says “car”, you repeat that and expand it to “car go” or “blue car”. Describe what you or they are doing using their level of speech.
5. Keep Expanding the Vocabulary. Use words to describe objects in the environment, words that tell where (such as up, down, over, etc) or describe how things look, feel, smell or sound.
6. Involve the Senses. As you describe things, give the opportunity to see, touch, smell and hear. Take them to new places and do new activities so they can learn new words for objects, actions and describing. Going to the same park every day may not provide the opportunity to maximize learning. In the early phases of vocabulary, you might decide to use simple hand gestures similar to sign language that you associate with specific objects or actions. This has been shown to allow a child to communicate before using oral speech.
7. Stay Positive. Don’t scold your child if what they say is wrong. Instead, keep modeling correct speech. You certainly don’t want the child to stop trying.
These are strategies that any parent, sibling or caregiver can use with a child to consistently improve language and communication. Try them all, and keep modeling and expanding their language as they learn and improve their skills.