Every day parents and caregivers have many opportunities to encourage communication development in infants and toddlers.
Better language skills to improve toddler speech development are very important as they help children to be better communicators, develop the skills necessary to build friendships, and further along, allows them to be better prepared for school.
Here are some suggestions and activities that parents and caregivers can use to encourage speech and language development in young children:
- Imitate the sounds or words that your child makes. Encourage them to take turns making sounds with you. See if they will imitate the speech sounds you make, but use familiar sounds that you know they can make.
- Label objects and actions during daily activities or play. Try to hold objects near your face and have your child look at you as you name the item. This will encourage attention and eye contact. Also, try to be at the same physical level as your child when you communicate with them. This could mean squatting to be at your child’s level or lying on your belly to play with him on the floor.
- Follow your child’s lead. Talk about what your child is interested in or what they are looking at. Your child will be more likely to pay attention to what you are saying if it is about something they are interested in.
- Speak in short, simple phrases. Try using just one or two word phrases when you communicate with your child. This can help children figure out what they should say, and sometimes it can help children better understand what you’re saying.
E.g., “Ball”, or “want ball”, or “ball in.”
- Repeat and emphasize key words during communication. Your child may pick up on those words and imitate them. This can also help children to understand your main message.
- Model an appropriate word when your child uses gestures and sounds to communicate. Instead of only responding to your child’s gestures, add a word so they learn what they could say if they were to say something.
E.g. Child: “uh” (reaching for something)
Adult: “Yes, duck!” “Here’s duck.”
- Interpret your child’s attempts to say words as though they are words. Make a big fuss to really encourage his attempts to speak even if you are not positive that the child is trying to say a word.
E.g., Child: “Da” (in bathtub)
Adult: “Yes, duck!” “Here is duck.”
- Try not to anticipate all of your child’s wants and needs. Create opportunities and encourage them to initiate communication by waiting for them to let you know in some way what they want. Try putting some of your child’s desired objects out of reach and see how he “asks” for them. Try not to respond too quickly, but give them a chance to communicate first.
- Give your child choices about what they want. Hold up two objects, say the names of both objects and offer your child a choice. Wait for them to reach and try to communicate a sound, then immediately give them the chosen object while saying its name.
Remember to be patient! Development of speech and language skills varies from child to child, but your child should follow a natural progression when developing their skills. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has multiple charts so you can learn where your child should be at with their speech and language development.