YES! Below are 5 strategies to improve your child's talking.
1. Avoid asking ‘What’s that?’
If you want your child to name something, try using sound effects or incomplete sentences to encourage them to say the word. Avoid saying “What’s that?”. Chances are that your child might not be at the level of understanding ‘what’ questions and/or they’ve heard it too many times that it’s no longer stimulating and rather annoying. Just imagine someone asking you 10 times a day, ‘What’s that?’. I remember one child in particular who had just learnt to talk and one of his first words was “wada?” (What’s that?). He would frequently say ‘wada’ to the point where he wasn’t even asking ‘What’s that?’, rather, he was saying it to get our reactions and applause.
Instead, try using sound effects, incomplete sentences, phonemic prompts and repetition. I know this might sound like jargon to you so let’s use the word ‘cat’ as an example.
Sound effects: “meeooowww”
Incomplete sentences: “look, it’s a brown, furry….”
Phonemic prompts: “It’s a ca….”
Repetition: “I can see a cat”, “Can you see a cat?”, “Cats say meow!”
There is no use in giving your child a drink of water then asking them to say “water”. When you purchase your coffee, do you point and gesture and then say “coffee” when it’s already in your hands? Chances are, our kids won’t either.
Instead, say; ‘I wonder what you want…hmmm…I think you want a…drink’. ‘I want a drink’. ‘Your turn to say…I want….’. Make sure you don’t give them the drink until they have either asked for it, gestured ‘drink’ or have given you their ‘drink’ visual. You can also achieve this with toys. Rather than jumping in and helping them or opening the box for them, give them the box closed and let them struggle for a bit to encourage them to say ‘open’ or ‘help’.
3. Store them up high and away.
No, I’m not referring to your child here, I’m talking about their favourite daily toys and food items. During one of the first therapy sessions for children with speech delay, I describe to parents the importance of play and using different types of toys to stimulate speech and language. I might go through a list of toys suitable for the child’s play development and talk about which toys are best to leave out in the open for the child to easily access and which toys to keep up high on shelves. Why? Because it will encourage your child to request and ask for help when they can’t reach the toys.
Of course, every child is at a different level and so I’ll cover the topic of ‘toys’ in another blog but for now, I want you to categorise your child’s toys into;
1.Toys that my child loves
2.Toys that my child really loves.
3.Toys that my child doesn’t love.
After you categorise your toys:
1.Put the toys that your child loves on the bottom of the toy shelf so that they can access them easily and play with throughout the day.
2.Put the toys that your child really loves up high so that they can request for them and ask for help and;
3.Put the toy’s that your child doesn’t love in the garage or give them to charity. This is particularly important as when kids have loads of toys lying around, they are less likely to play with them and often stick to that one toy they love.
More importantly, spend 20mins a day playing with your child, encouraging them to request for toys and imitating their play.
Children aren’t that different to adults. They thrive off sound, touch, movement and relaxation. I refer to this as stimulation. Now, just like anything, you can have bad stimulators and good stimulators, too much stimulation and too low stimulation. If you want your child to talk more, use stimulators.
Let’s start off with some examples:
- iPads/tablets/TVs are high stimulators because they have music, colours, lights, voices and moving pictures. This is why children sometimes learn or pick up vocabulary from watching TV or playing on the iPad, however, they lack touch so the skill of interaction and communication with real life people aren’t being met and so it doesn’t encourage positive communication or interactions. Hence why they can become a problem. For children under two, iPad/tablets/TV can also give too much stimulation and make other forms of engagement such as playing with toys or drawing ‘too boring’. And yes, I quite often see toddlers whom are too easily bored (HIGH-TOO HIGH).
- Outdoor play is fantastic as it covers all the stimulators of touch, movement, texture and if you turn some music on while they’re playing outside, you can add relaxation and sound components. Playing outdoors is the perfect time to work on your child’s speech, especially is you have a playground set. Whilst your child is being fully stimulated, you can start adding words such as ‘go’, ‘more’, ‘high’, ‘roll’, ‘stop’, ‘jump’ and ‘squish’ (MODERATE-HIGH).
- Toys and puzzles that require banging, stacking, animal noises and spinning are moderate stimulators. They often have colours and sounds are require touch and movement. One of my favourite puzzles are the Melissa and Dough animal puzzles as they make animals. I also love stackable spinning toys that you can stack up and they spin and crash (MODERATE).
- Bubbles etc (MODERATE-LOW)
- Talking is a low stimulator for children. There is not much stimulation in talking, hence why you will rarely see a toddler who just wants to sit and talk (LOW-TOO LOW).
5. Say less.
Hmm, I bet you didn’t except this one, but did you know that saying less words and adding stress is so much more effective than talking in long sentences and repeating yourself over and over again?
This principal is taken from the Hanen - More Than Words program which encourages parents to use less but more meaningful words and add stress to these meaning full words using intonation or saying them slowly. I usually apply the following rule: listen to how many words your child puts together then imitate their length of utterances and add 1-2 more words. For example, if your child uses one-word expressions, you can use two-three word expressions. If your child talks in three-word expressions, use four-five word expressions and so forth. See the example below:
Parent: “blue car”.
Child: “blue car”.
Parent: “drive the blue car”
We hope these strategies will help improve your child’s communication no matter which level they’re at. If you are sworried about your child’s speech and language development, use our checklist to find out whether they need to see a Speech Pathologist or contact us for more information.
Sally Hanna Kodsy (Speech Pathologist) in Blacktown, Stanhope Gardens and Hornsby is passionate about improving children's speech and language skills. She believes in the empowerment of expressing oneself through words, gestures, visuals and movement. Communication is the fuel for relationships and involves both listening and talking. Her key interests are working with children with severe speech delay or Autism. She is also devoted to serving the wider community and supporting families in need.