Encouraging Language

Encouraging language at home is so important. The most difficult part of a speech or language delay is the frustration it causes the child. When they cannot communicate what they want, they get upset or angry. And who can blame them! I have three children aged 8, 5 & 2. My 8-year-old son started proper talking around 16 months old. His words were crystal clear and by 2 he was stringing 5+-word sentences together. He never stopped talking (and still doesn’t)! I always read to him but didn’t do anything special to encourage language.

My 5-year-old son struggled with language. At his 2-year-old check-up, he was referred to a speech therapist.  At that time, he could say, mama & dada but the rest of his words were way off! He called his “piggy” “oon-yo-yo.” And other words were similarly distorted. I took a parents course about encouraging language for your child and we started seeing a speech therapist. Today, my 5-year-old is full of chat!

When I became pregnant with our daughter, I thought to myself that she won’t have any speech issues because I will apply all of the techniques I used to help our 5-year-old. But, I was wrong. Despite using the techniques from a very early age, at her 2-year-old check-up, she was also referred to a speech therapist. She is much further ahead than her brother was at 2. She has some clear words and some more words that I can understand – they are on the right track but not very clear.  She points for what she wants and will take my hand to show me what she wants. It seems that if a child is prone to a speech delay then it’s going to happen regardless. That being said, the speech therapist thinks that if I hadn’t been using the techniques I learned with my son, that my daughter would be further behind.

The parent class differentiated between speech and language. Language being the ability to communicate with words, pointing or body language. Speech being the correct pronunciation of words. The class focuses on language, not speech as it’s best to encourage any communication.

The most difficult part of a speech or language delay is the frustration it causes the child. When they cannot communicate what they want, they get upset or angry. And who can blame them! We did an exercise in the parents class (which was just parents, no kids attended the classes). We each thought of a television show. Our teammates had to guess the show, but could only ask us yes / no questions. It was so unbelievably frustrating to not be able to say more than that. It gave us an idea of what it’s like for our children who are lacking the ability to communicate.

Here are techniques I use on a daily basis to encourage language:

*  I encourage pointing by giving my child a choice (even if I know which item they will choose). For example, I show them two types of cereal and ask which one they want. Then I praise them for pointing to one. I say the name of the cereal they choose several times.

*  It’s best not to ask a child to say anything as it’s too much pressure. Simply saying the words for them lets them hear it and they will eventually start saying the words themselves. I say the word over and over.

*  I make eye contact with my child, & get down to their level. If they babble on with a baby talk story, I look at them and listen, and nod as if they were saying proper words. If I know what they are trying to say, then I repeat it with proper words when they are done, to model the right words for them.

*  If my child is frustrated and is shouting or crying but can’t say what they way, I say “show mommy” and put out my hand. They take my hand and we go off to see what they want or what the problem is. I encourage them to point to what they want. Then I say the word several times for them to hear.

*  It’s okay to say ” I don’t know what you want” or ” I don’t understand.” I’ve found that this actually calms my child down. They are being acknowledged, but mommy just doesn’t get it. I follow it up with asking them to show me what they want.

*  I say short sentences like, “mommy help” “nice lunch” “want drink” etc.

*  I don’t say “what’s that?” It’s too much pressure for the child who cannot say what “that” is (it’s okay to ask if the child knows the word).  If they don’t know the word, it’s better to simply say what it is you are looking at. For example, if you are looking at a bunny out the window say, “bunny” or “look, a bunny.”

*  I say the name of everyday items as we go about our day. And, when I dress my daughter, I say the name of each item of clothing. I count when I put on my daughter’s socks – 1, 2.

*  A technique I found really useful was setting up some favourite toys on the table. I sit and watch my child play with the toys and I give a running commentary of what they are doing. It’s giving them the words they’d say if they could speak. For example, we used a farm set up a lot with my 5-year-old, I’d say what he was doing:  “drive car” “feed cow” “dog in trailer” “jeep drive fast” etc. Short sentences and repeat them often. I’ve found when I give my child words that relate to something they love, then they have more interest in learning.

I hope these tips will come in handy. If you have any concern about your child’s speech, please speak to your doctor and start speech therapy as soon as s possible. Early intervention is key! And please note that I am not a speech therapist or doctor. This is my interpretation of what I’ve learned to help my kids.

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