So, your child has a language delay, what next? What can you do at home to help develop your child’s language?
There are lots of ways to give your child’s language a boost at home. I will outline some simple changes you can make to the way you talk to your child, and changes you can make to their environment to help their speech and language skills.
Your words and the way you speak are things that will make the biggest impact. Slowing down, emphasizing certain words, and having an enthusiastic or playful tone of voice will help your child attend to and process what you’re saying. When talking to your child, it can be tempting to keep asking them questions to elicit speech. However commenting on what’s happening helps to link what they’re seeing/what’s happening to the words used to describe it. So a good rule of thumb is to say 3 comments for every 1 question you ask. Below are some ideas to help your child understand and learn new words through what you say:
- Description – When playing with your child, describe what the toys/objects are doing. e.g. “the plane is flying!”
- Translate their actions/gestures into words so they can hear how they could say it.
e.g. If they point to the fridge to indicate they’re hungry, then you could say “You’re hungry! I’m hungry too!”
- Parallel talk – Describe what your child is doing.
e.g. “You’re stacking blocks! You made it so tall!”
- Expansion – If they say single words, help expand it into a sentence. e.g. Child: “cat”
Parent: “yes, cat eat’
- Self-talk – Talk about what you’re doing when they’re around.e.g. if they’re in the kitchen while you’re cooking, you could say “I’m pouring the flour in. In the bowl’.
- Utilise songs and rhymes with clapping and hand signals to get them engaged in language use.
There are also things you can do to make them need to talk more, such as changing the environment so that they need to ask for help. Below are some environmental changes that you can make:
- Follow their lead – during play-time let them take the lead and play with what they want to. This will help ensure that they are more engaged and therefore more likely to attend to what you’re saying.
- Change the expected order of things. Doing little things like giving your child a spoon and “forgetting” to give them their yoghurt can encourage them to communicate that something’s wrong.
- Put toys out of reach or in boxes with tight lids to encourage them to request.
- Watch and wait – it can be tempting to step in and help your child when they’re struggling with something, but letting them try and then come to you for help when they need it is a great way to help them learn and self-regulate.
- Limit screen time – More than 1 hour per day of screen time in pre-school children is linked with increased health risks later in life (Ministry of Social Development, 2019). Limiting passive screen time (e.g. watching TV) helps reduce these risks. When your child does have screen time, sit along with them and utilise the same talking tips outlined above.
- Sit down and read a book with your child. This doesn’t necessarily need to involve reading the words that are on the page. Instead, you can point to the pictures and talk about what’s happening. Use an energetic tone of voice to keep their interest. Use different voices for different characters to make it more fun.
Remember that you are your child’s biggest learning resource. So modelling talking and encouraging them to talk is going to be what will make the biggest difference to their language development.
Ministry of Social Development. (2019). Effects of screen time on preschool health and development – Research report. Retrieved from Ministry of Social Development: https://msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/publications-resources/research/screen-time-on-preschoolers/index.html
Speech Language Therapist