Last week I wrote a post about Mazzy and her quickly growing vocabulary called The Seven Stages of Language Development, which included stages you have probably read about in important medical journals such as The Broken Robot, The Snuffaluffagus Conundrum and It's About Fucking Time. A few readers expressed that my post made them sad because their babies aren't quite as wordy. So instead of closing the subject with a bunch of nonsense that helped NOBODY, I thought I'd call in the big guns to give some actual advice.
That's right, today Dr. B is off (celebrating her birthday by making out with her dog, I presume) and Lori, the speech pathologist behind Your Child Talking (an online resource for parents who want to facilitate language development for their kids) is in the house.
Please make her feel at home.
FIVE TRICKS TO GET YOUR TODDLER TALKING
There are two things all parents of babies wait for: first words and first steps. The peanut butter and jelly of early childhood development. But while most moms are pretty comfortable with the idea that, in the absence of real problems, kids are going to learn to walk no matter what, there is lots of worry about creating an environment that cultivates successful language development.
Research does support the idea that there are things mom and dad can do to make the communication soil fertile for faster growing. And I’ll also say that kids develop a talking style much like their parents have. So if you are a chatterbox, your child will likely be also. If you are quiet and take a measured approach to talking out loud, so too will your children likely be. (No guarantees about that, though!)
But if you want a few tricks in your bag, here are a my five top tips.
So now you’re saying, “What? Lori is this a trick? Talk?” Yep. Talk. Narrate. Take what your child gives you, make it bigger, and give it back. If your child says “ball!” you give them the ball saying “Yep! This is a ball, a biiiiig, red ball! Bounce the ball! Ka-boing, ka-boing!” This is called language expansion: take a concept, grow it a bit, then give it back to your munchkin. It is one of the most important aspects of language facilitation and I teach it to parents all the time.
Research shows that as important as giving a child words is, it is equally important to let them have the floor. Listening and attention are validating. We all know this. We know who in our circle of friends is the best listener and we seek them out when we need to have our souls soothed. So when you give your child your attention when he or she is talking – and by “talking” I mean babbling, singing, saying words, engaging in sound or word play – you teach your child that those things are important and worth your time, and you sustain their interest in it by paying attention to it yourself.
3. No baby talk.
While I don’t suggest that you read scholarly articles to the baby to fall asleep by, I do absolutely discourage baby talk. And by baby talk, I mean adding “y” to words unnecessarily (drinky, nappy, walky, etc), talking in an abnormally high pitch, or creating infantile versions of words (wa-wa, ba-ba, etc.) Your child creates these word forms naturally as a linguistic developmental milestone. You help them get to the next milestone by reinforcing the words as they are meant to be said. Note: that does not mean insisting that they say “water,” after they’ve said “wa-wa.” It means when they say, “wa-wa” you say “Water? Yep! Splash splash! Sooo good to drink. Here’s a cup of water!”
4. Be animated.
Use lots of melody and facial expression when you talk with the baby. Use changes in volume. Sing. Use your hands. This makes you even more fascinating than you are. You are already one of the most intriguing things in your baby’s life. But when you create interest around the act of talking, you get your baby to attend to it for longer periods of time and that gives your baby even more opportunity to learn.
5. Limit screen time.
TV does NOT teach language. Not Sesame Street, not Baby Einstein. It doesn’t. Nor do computer games or iPad apps. Those things can teach concepts. They can teach letters, or colors, or counting, or some new vocabulary. But language and communication are – by definition – interactive. Screens are not interactive. You are interactive, as are brothers and sisters, grandparents, friendly neighbors, other moms and that guy who makes funny faces at the check-out counter. These are the things in your baby’s world that teach. Save the screen time for those moments when you are desperate for ten or twenty minute distractions.
But I will caution you – be careful what you wish for. There isn’t a parent alive who doesn’t wonder – once their toddlers are badgering them with a million “why” questions – what on earth they’d been so anxious for!
Your Child Talking provides tips, games and instructions to help develop language for new talkers, as well as personal video consultations to properly assess your child if you have specific concerns. Lori is a licensed speech pathologist as well as the hilarious blogger behind In Pursuit of Martha Points.