It is easy to talk to a chatty child who engages in conversation easily. It’s a lot harder when children don’t talk much – and especially if they don’t talk at all.
If they don’t talk yet, you can use single words and short phrases to talk about what they are interested in. Observe what they are looking at or what they are doing. Talk about that! Getting down to their eye level will help you to know what they’re interested in, and will also help them to see and hear you better. I like to sit in a smaller chair and put my little clients in a bigger chair, so that we can see eye to eye. With some of my smallest clients, they sit facing me while I lie down on the floor!
It helps to speak slowly and to pause often, to give them more time to understand and respond to what you say. Switch off anything that makes noise so that they can hear you clearly. Repeat the same words often to give them more chances to learn words and sentence structures.
They may already communicate by using gestures or noises, like pointing to what they want. You can imitate what they are doing to encourage them to keep using gestures and noises, and to let them know that they are effective communicators. You can also use a word or phrase to say the same thing. It is always helpful to model language that is just a step more complex than they are using. Don’t get too complex, though – you may lose their interest!
If they are starting to talk a little, pay close attention to what they say and respond to it. Repeat what they say as well, adding a word or two. Short, simple, correct phrases help. Give them lots of opportunities to use the words that they already say. For instance, if they can say “uh oh,” take turns dropping things on the floor and saying “uh oh.”
It’s tempting to pressure a child to talk, but pressure often makes children less likely to talk. It’s important for children to feel relaxed for their brains to work optimally!
Is “baby talk” helpful? Talking to children in an animated way, with lots of facial expression and a voice that captures their attention, is definitely helpful. It tells them that you are talking to them! And it gives them information about the sound system and helps to highlight important words, too. One word of warning, though – some people change the sounds of the language when they use “baby talk.” It is always best to model correct speech and language for children.
Hearing is crucial for language development, so if you have concerns, get your child’s hearing checked. Even fluctuating hearing loss from ear infections can affect a child’s ability to learn language. Talk to your doctor about a referral to audiology as a first step to making sure your child can hear well.
I hope this article was helpful! If you have concerns about your child’s speech or language, please contact a Speech-Language Pathologist. If you live in or near Winnipeg, we at SpeechWorks Inc. would be happy to help.