As a Speech Language Pathologist I am often asked, “How can I get my child to talk?” The first thing I tell parents when asked this question is that children must be given the opportunity to talk. For parents, it is often easy to anticipate what your child wants and just give it to them. Children must learn that in order to get what they want they must communicate their wants to those around them. If a child’s wants are always anticipated or if someone else always talks for them, the child will never learn the need to talk. By not anticipating the wants of your child or talking for them, your child will learn that by using their words they can get what they want and thus learn the power of communication.
Here are a few ways you can encourage communication with your child:
Speak simple – Speak in short, simple terms that your child can understand and imitate easily. Young children can only process fairly short, concise information. Keeping speech concise and consistent is an important key to good communication with your toddler. For example, instead of asking your child, “Are you still thirsty? Would you like some more grape juice in your cup?”, try “More juice?”. The same point has been made, and it is easier for a young child to process. Also, children model our behavior. Their developmental skills limit their ability to speak in long, complicated sentences. Instead they are more likely to be able to communicate “more juice” with greater ease and consistency.
Talk a lot – During the day, comment on things going on in your child’s environment. During bathtime, mealtime, bedtime, playtime, and any other daily routine, constantly talk to your child about what you are doing and what is going on around them. For example, "Get in tub.", “Go night night.", “You’re playing ball.”, etc. The more children hear words modeled the more likely they will remember and use those words when appropriate. Talk as long as your child shows interest. If they turn away or appear inattentive, stop. Don’t give your child a case of auditory overload.
Gain full attention – When talking to a child it is important to get on their level and gain their full attention. Get your child to look at your face when you say words. One thing I like to do is get a child’s toy and hold it next to my mouth as I name it. I like this strategy for three reasons. One, by bringing the toy up to your mouth your child will want to know what you are doing with the toy and therefore you will have their full attention. Second, by holding up the toy as you name it, your child will be able to see the toy and hear the word you say and will put the two together realizing that the word must be the name for that toy. And third, since your child will be looking at your mouth they will see how you move your mouth to form the word which will help them to form their mouth to say the word.
Withhold – This technique is similar to environmental sabotage. When you are trying to set up a situation to entice your child to talk, never, ever, ever give them all the pieces of anything at once. Withhold what they want until they communicate their wants. For example, if your child likes to play with puzzles, don’t place all of the pieces on the floor and let them put them in on their terms. Place the pieces in a bag and then withhold the pieces until they tell use a word to let you know they would like another piece. Do this with every piece until your child has completed the puzzle.
Offer choices – One of the simplest, but most effective ways to get your child to talk is to provide them with a choice and withhold the item they want until they use their speech to request it. A good time to try this is when you know they want a snack. Give your child a snack choice of one you know they really want, and one they probably won’t pick. Hold them up and name both items. When they have indicated which snack they desire label it for them. For example, if you hold up a cookie and cracker, and they point or reach for the cookie, you will say, “cookie.” Do not give it to them until they say cookie or at least attempt to say the word.
Expand – Once your child has started talking and has some words in their repertoire it is time to start expanding on those words and making sentences. When your child says a word, expand on it repeating his word but adding to it. For example, if your child says “car” while playing with a blue car expand on it and say’ “blue car.” Be sure to add adjectives to their words, so they can learn new vocabulary and new descriptive words. Over time you can add different parts of speech in as well to make the sentence a bit more complex and meaningful.
There are many more ways to encourage communication with your child, but I think you get the idea. Use any of these strategies you feel comfortable with, but I encourage you to try each of them. Just remember, stimulating you child’s language development should be fun, not frustrating. If these tactics do not seem to be working or are getting the both of you too frustrated, please consult a speech language pathologist or schedule a speech and language evaluation. And remember, the key is for your child to learn the power of communication.
Connie Paulson, M.A. CCC-SLP