Supporting your child’s language development

There are many ways that we can support a child’s receptive and expressive language development. The following strategies for supporting your child’s language development can be carried out in a natural way through play, family time or during everyday activities. The ideas are for you to be a model for your child rather than you expecting them to repeat exactly what you say. Here are my favourite tips for supporting a child’s language development:

Tune in: Follow your child’s lead to see what interests them. Get down to their level, it may mean sitting on the floor with them. See what interests them and use this as an opportunity to model language. It may be rolling the ball along the floor, you could say ‘roll’ or ‘roll the ball’. Keep your language short and simple emphasising key words. Children learn best through play-use this as a key opportunity to model language for them.

Talk, talk, talk!: Be very chatty! This can include self-talk which is talking out loud around the child about what you see, hear, feel, want etc. Your child does not need to be paying close attention to what you are saying, just as long as they are near you. It is also important to use a slow rate of speech, be clear and use simple words or phrases that you feel your child may understand. Parallel talk is another important way of modelling language. Again, this involves being chatty! Comment out loud on what your child is doing.  Again use short, simple language.

Expansion: Expanding on what your child is saying is a great way of encouraging your child to start putting words together. This means adding a word or two on to what your child is saying. For example, if your child sees a car and says ‘car’, you could say ‘blue car’. Do not expect your child to repeat the words after you say it. It is important that they are hearing it, and will increase the likelihood that they might spontaneously imitate you.

Reduce questions: This can be a tricky one! As adults we ask plenty of questions as a way of getting an interaction going. It is such a natural thing that we do not even realise we are doing it. We often do this when talking to children as we feel this is the best way to encourage them to speak. Monitor the amount of questions you ask your child. If you know the answer, try turning it into a comment rather than a question. For example, when asking your child ‘what’s this?’ when pointing at a blue toy car. Instead say ‘it’s a blue car’. By commenting rather than asking you are giving your child the opportunity to learn words they may not know already. When you do ask your child a question, remember to avoid asking too many questions at once. Also think about the complexity of the question-are there too many words to process and does your child understand all the words in the question?

Praise: And finally, give your child plenty of praise! Praise involves responding quickly to your child’s attempts to communicate. Praise can be given in non-verbal forms such as a smile or a high five. Verbal praise could be responding to your child’s attempt to communicate by saying ‘excellent talking!’

By Caitlin Hughes, Speech & Language Therapist at Sensational Kids, Child Development Centre, Claremorris, County Mayo. Sensational Kids is a non-profit providing affordable and accessible therapeutic supports for children of all abilities.

If you would like to arrange an appointment to meet with any of the Sensational Kids Speech and Language Therapists to discuss your child’s language development, please do not hesitate to make contact through our nationwide child development centres.


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