Improving Your Child’s Speech Development
As a pediatric speech-language pathologist, I am often asked, “What can I do to help my child at home?” Here are my top 10 suggestions to encourage speech and language development.
- Talking about what you do and see throughout your day helps your child learn vocabulary in everyday situations. Your child wants to be like you. Hearing you talk about what you see and do will encourage them to do the same when they are ready.
- Play helps establish important skills children need to develop to be effective communicators, including initiation with others, joint attention, imitation, and turn-taking.
- Follow your child’s lead. Play with things your child already enjoys.
- Use leading open ended questions like “Hmm, I wonder what this is?”
- Reduce questions like “what’s this?” or “what color is this?”
- Let your child choose the book to increase motivation.
- You don’t have to read all the words in the story: the important part about story time is the interaction between you and your child. Try to avoid asking questions and focus more on commenting on what you see or like in the story.
- Giving your child choices encourages language expression, teaches vocabulary, and helps teach the power of communicating.
- Having the objects present to choose from is important for providing visuals to accompany your words and allows for non verbal selections** (see bonus tip below).
- Repeat your child’s utterances and model correct speech with emphasis.
- Expand what your child says by adding descriptive words or action words (ex: your child attempts to say “car,” you can say things like “blue car,” “fast car,” “more cars,” “go car”).
- Mealtime, bedtime, bathtime, playtime, storytime, you name it! These are great opportunities to encourage speech and language development. Children often learn routines quickly and thrive in familiar situations. The familiarity of an activity can reduce the pressure for a child and make communication responses more automatic.
- Resisting the temptation to fill the silence and speak for your child can be hard, but so effective for communication development.
- Anticipate what your child may need or want, but give them time to make requests, ask for help, and answer your questions. Look at your child with anticipation and wait at least 10 seconds for responses.
- “Good job,” “You did it!” … These are positive statements that will make your child happy, but may not help your child learn what was “good.”
- Being specific with feedback is a speech therapy technique that is particularly important for helping your child improve speech development. Examples:
- “Great job putting your lips together for that /p/ sound.”
- “Yay! I saw your tongue stay behind your teeth for that /s/ sound”
- “Great! You made a choice; you told me you wanted juice”
- Motivate your child to communicate by strategically placing their favorite things within sight, but out of reach so they need your help.
- Pretend to forget to give your child something they need in a familiar routine to motivate them to initiate a request for the missing item (ex: give them their yogurt without a spoon or if you always open their yogurt first, then don’t open it and look for a response to encourage the words “open” or “help”).
- **It is important to look for, accept, and encourage nonverbal communication including pointing, gesturing, reaching, grabbing, looking toward an object.
- During routines and repetitive stories: Try leaving off some of the words in verbal routines. Look to your child with anticipation and wait 5-10 seconds to see if they will finish the line. If not, then you repeat the line and go ahead and finish it for them with emphasis.
- Choice making: Confirm your child’s choices. For example: you ask if your child wants milk or juice and your child reaches toward milk — acknowledge this choice by giving them the milk and saying things like “you want milk” or “here’s your milk.” You can point to your mouth and emphasize the beginning sound of the word to draw your child’s attention to the speech production of the word.
- Speech practice: being eye level with your child during speech practice is important. You can sit face to face, or both look in a mirror together, or turn the camera on your phone to reverse mode and look at it together and practice sounds/words.