By: Abigael Gray, MS, CCC-SLP
NESCA Speech-Language Pathologist
I recently got to spend time with my 18-month-old nephew, after not having seen him in a year and a half due to the pandemic. It got me thinking about practical ways to help facilitate language throughout the day without feeling like you’re doing anything extra. Play and routines are great times to build language, and you can often find opportunities that are motivating for your child. Motivation and interest are key, because children are much more likely to participate and communicate. Below, I discuss tips to incorporate into your daily routine at home.
Five ways to facilitate language growth at home:
- Play the way your child is playing and imitate what they’re doing.
- Even if you had a plan, don’t be afraid to change it to focus on their interests (i.e., follow their lead, as explained below).
- Use fun sounds, words and gestures to go with what you’re doing (e.g., “beep beep” when playing with cars, “pop” when popping bubbles, “yummy/mmm” and rubbing your stomach when pretending to eat play food).
- Follow your child’s lead
- Observe what they’re interested in, wait until they initiate or continue interaction, and listen to their words and sounds.
- Get on their level so they know you are joining in.
- If they are doing something unsafe, explain why it’s unsafe in simple terms and redirect them to a safe activity.
- Get silly
- Repeat actions they think are funny.
- Switch up routines in a silly way (e.g., “forget” their favorite bath toy, give them a fork with their yogurt). This encourages language when your child notices and wants to tell you something is different or missing.
- Change song lyrics or words in stories to be about your child, their interests and/or what is happening around you in the moment.
- Slowly sing familiar nursery rhymes and songs and then pause at key words to encourage them to fill in a word or gesture.
- Pause a familiar activity, such as pushing the swing, and wait for them to ask you to continue using words or gestures (e.g., “more,” “again,” “go”).
- When looking for a response, stop talking, lean forward and look at them expectantly. You can count slowly to 10 silently, which gives your child time to respond.
- When your child uses one to two words, turn it into a short sentence. For example, if they say “up” wanting you to pick them up, you could say, “Ok, I’ll pick you up.”
- Be sure to use correct grammar when expanding their message, even if your child is still using immature grammar.
- Use a variety of words (e.g., describing words, action words, words for feelings, location words, etc.). Start with words your child would want to say to talk about the things they are interested in.
Many of these ideas are things you may already be doing throughout the day, but it is good to think about how doing so helps your child learn to understand and use language. If you feel that your child may be behind in their language understanding or production, it is helpful to schedule an evaluation with a speech-language pathologist. If therapy is warranted, your speech-language pathologist can make recommendations specific to your child and family and show you how to best encourage language growth in the home environment.
Weitzman, E. (2017). It takes two to talk: A practical guide for parents of children with language delays (5th ed.). Toronto: Hanen Centre.
About the Author
Abigael Gray has over six years of experience in assessment and treatment of a variety of disorders, including dysphagia, childhood apraxia of speech, speech sound disorder, receptive and expressive language disorder, autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. She has a special interest and experience in working with children with feeding and swallowing disorders, including transitioning infants to solid foods, weaning from tube feeding, improving sensory tolerance, developing chewing skills, increasing variety and volume of nutritional intake and reducing avoidance behaviors during mealtimes.
To book an appointment with or to learn more about NESCA’s Speech & Language Therapy, please fill out our online Intake Form, email NESCA’s Director of Clinical Services Julie Robinson or call 617-658-9800.
Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.