5 Keys To Helping Your Child Communicate Verbally

The article that follows is written by a speech therapist I know and respect. Although it is not related to health or pain prevention, it is extremely useful for parents of young children.

5 Keys to Helping Your Child Communicate Verbally
By Rachel B. Raper, MSP, CCC-SLP, LSLS Cert AVT

1. Consistency:
Set expectations. Expect your child to continue what he/she has demonstrated in the past and to demonstrate new skills in the future. If your child says “all gone,” start to expect him to use “empty” as a synonym. If she points to ask for more, try 3 times to have her say “more.”  After the 3rd try give her what was requested as you say “more” to demonstrate your expectation. Be consistent and do this each time. Once your child states “more” consistently, move on to name the desired items. Set boundaries and routines for behavior in the home.

2. Wait time:

Your child is learning to process language (words, vocabulary, and directions). Allow him enough time to think about what was said before expecting a response. Language learning is a process that varies for all children.

3.  Modeling:

Provide your child a natural example. Children learn language by overhearing it and through listening to others talk directly to them during natural play. Family members should use “parentease” to talk to children: speak using a higher pitch with a song-like melody when completing daily activities.
Use words and word combinations you want your child to imitate. If she is at the 1-word stage and likes balls, simply say “ball” while playing ball with her. Sing about the ball while rolling it. Say “ball” at different pitches and make it sound interesting to hold her attention. If she is at the 2-word stage, combine 2 words such as “my ball” or “big ball” or “bounce ball.” Use another family member as a model. Say a word, and then have a sibling repeat it. This makes it a copy-cat game, which children love.
Once your child knows 30-50 single words, begin to expect him to use 2-word combinations. Expanding is a type of modeling. Whenever he uses a single word, add another word that is appropriate to the situation. If he says “no” to deny more milk; say “no milk.” This confirms what he said and exemplifies how to use 2 words correctly. Using words from his known vocabulary encourages him to imitate your 2-word phrase without being instructed, thus making it more natural.
Commentating is another type of modeling. Think of yourself as a commentator at a game. As she plays, talk aloud about her interests by using simple words. While playing, your child is overhearing your words and may copy some of them without being pressured.
Language (words, vocabulary) is more important than a toddler’s speech articulation (sounds in words). If she uses a word approximation consistently, then that counts as a word. Repeat that word as you respond to her as a way to naturally model the correct articulation. If your child is not 70% intelligible (understood) by age 2 ask your pediatrician for a referral to a Speech Pathologist.

4. Reason to Communicate:

Your child needs a reason to communicate or he will choose not to. Think about his environment. Are his needs anticipated and how does your family react to them? Create a need to communicate by making language more meaningful. Gain his attention and model what you want him to sign, say, or do to get his desire met. Start with everyday events such as drinking, eating, etc. Have him use his mode of communication consistently and set your expectation for him to communicate before giving him the desired object. Withholding it may work with objects he has demonstrated to request before. This method initially requires a lot of effort on your part in order to break family habits; but in the long run it teaches him to communicate.

5. Reading Aloud

Children learn language, words, and new vocabulary through overhearing words. Books expose them to new words outside of your everyday environment. Toddlers have a brief attention span, so choose short books with simple pictures displaying action.  Read 20 minutes every day (it doesn’t have to be 20 consecutive minutes in the beginning). Choose multiple books to fill this time, read books as he is interested multiple times each day, or re-read his favorites. The exact words on the page do not always have to be read. Children look at the pictures, so you should too. Meet her on her level by looking at the pictures and creating a story by talking aloud to describe the actions. If you choose to read the words on the page, do so, then talk about the pictures using simple words to model what you want her to imitate. While reading, ask her to point to pictures when you name them or to name pictures when asked, but do so in limitation.
Use shared control by holding the book together, helping him turn the pages, moving through each book from front to back, and allowing a break between books if needed. Some tricks to try when he gets squirmy include: acting out the action in the pictures, incorporating nursery rhymes and songs, selecting nursery rhyme or song-related books, and choosing books he can manipulate (open-the-flap, touch-n-feel, etc.). Once book reading becomes a habit and part of your routine, his attention span and interest in books will grow.
Echo reading also encourages natural imitation of words and phrases. Read or use a word or phrase, then have them echo what you said. Continue this back-and-forth style of reading for each page as another way to model or provide examples. Children, if given proper words they are capable of repeating, imitate without being told or pressured, thus making it more natural.  Fun ways to model echo reading are to choose books with repetitious words/phrases and to choose books with rhyme.
Two great books for parents to learn to read aloud are The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease and Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox.

Published by lizbnavarr@gmail.com

I am a Physical Therapist and Ergonomics Consultant, based out of Columbia, SC. My passion is to write about and speak about pain/injury prevention. I started Pain Talks as a consulting business in 2018.

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