Children develop speech and language skills at their own rate, which means some children are perfectly on schedule with what textbooks and websites say, some are a little slow to talk, and some demonstrate advanced skills. Regardless of where a child is with their speech or language, I am often asked, "I think my child might be delayed, what can I do to help him talk more?" Well, this post is dedicated to answering that question. I've put together a list of ideas and activities to do with your toddler to encourage more language production and work on age-appropriate speech sounds.
For a child who is around 2 years of age, the sounds they should be starting to master are the ones they produce mainly with their lips: /b/ /p/ /m/ /w/, as well as /n/ & /h/. Focus on these sounds while doing language stimulation activities with your child:
1. Play around with these sounds in the mirror. Make silly sounds, simple words, or animal sounds and see if your child will imitate (ba, be, bo, bye, bay, bob, beep, boom, etc.). For example: Mom says, "baba" while pointing to her mouth, then point to child's mouth and say, "Your turn." Wait at least 5 seconds, then repeat if the child didn't imitate. Children also like videos, so you can even do this while recording this activity on your phone or tablet, then watch it with your little one when you are done. Oftentimes children imitate sounds/words a second time when watching the video. If your child doesn't respond well to direct activities like this, just model these silly sounds during play.
2. Use simple 1-2 word phrases when talking with your child, get down at their level so they can see mouth movements and the way sounds are produced.
3. Speak slowly. I feel like I am always saying, "We need to hurry!" As I am rattling off a list of things for my daughter to do so we can leave the house. We get so caught up in the hustle of everyday life that we often push our little ones to "hurry hurry!" all while throwing tons of language at them, spoken at a very fast rate. All children benefit when we slow our rate of speech & model good conversational turn-taking skills (eye contact, getting down at their level, body directed towards your listener, wait for child to respond, etc.).
3. If your child says something and it sounds like gibberish, but you understand what they want based on context, model the words you think they are trying to say. Example: Child: "Bbash tisad" while pointing to the milk, Mom: "Want milk? Okay. Here's milk. Milk. Yummy Milk." Then hand them the milk, "Mmm milk!"
3. Sing simple nursery rhymes and children's songs with your child, as the lyrics have many of the early developing sounds a toddler should be starting to master.
4. During play, model environmental sounds like car sounds, silly sounds, and animal sounds and see if your child will imitate.
5. When trying to get your child to imitate a word (stick to 1-word phrases), give them the model, wait 5 seconds, prompt one time for them to say it, wait 5 seconds, then move on.
6. Bubbles are great a great way to work on language, because most all kids LOVE bubbles. Have your child request "more" or "bubble." Talk about popping the bubbles, "pop!" or where the bubbles are, "up" "down." Even things like, "Uh oh," "all gone." "bye bye." Etc.
7. Offer a choice of 2 items. Even when you know your child just wants milk, offer milk or water--label each one, "Milk? Water?" Wait the 5 seconds, if your child points to milk, label "Milk, want milk?" Wait 5 seconds, then label it a few more times, "Milk, yummy milk." and give them the milk, even if they didn't imitate.
8. If your child is struggling to produce words, baby sign language can be a nice bridge to verbal communication. I like to focus on one sign at a time and start with one handed signs like "milk," "eat" or "drink." Chose something that will be rewarding to your child and model the sign as close to your face/mouth as possible. Always say the verbal production of the word while modeling the sign as well. Baby Sign Language is a great resource. You can look up a sign, watch a video, and even print off a picture of the sign to color with your child. I tell parents to hang it on the fridge or a high traffic area so both you and your child will see if often.
Biggest things to remember:
- Label label label and repeat repeat repeat. The more your child hears it, the better!
- WAIT. Too often we tell a child, "Say milk, milk. Do you want milk? Say milk?" All without even pausing to give the child a chance to say it. It can be hard, so I tell parents to literally count to 5 in their head.
- Use simple phrases when talking with your child. 1-3 words max.
- PLAY! Talk about what you are doing, what he is doing, make silly sounds, and most important have fun!
- Reward immediately. If your child requests using real, clear words, or imitates you after you have modeled a word or sign, give them what they asked for as soon as possible!
- Slow down while talking with your child.
I usually tell parents to hang this list on the fridge, look at it every morning and pick one thing they are going to focus on that day with their child. Once or twice a day for 5-10 minutes is all it takes! Please remember, however, that this blog and the information I provide is for educational purposes and is NOT meant to be a replacement for therapy provided by a licensed speech-language pathologist. If your toddler demonstrates delayed speech or language skills, I encourage you to seek out a speech-therapist in your area, or contact your local Infant-Toddler Program to see if they qualify for therapy.