Parents often ask what it is that makes the biggest difference in any given child’s speech and language development, to which the answer is always the same – the parents themselves. It’s easy to overlook just how big of an impact the interactions of a parent with their child have second by second, every single day of their early lives. Every word, every sound and every action lays something of a foundation for what will eventually be the child’s speech and language capabilities. Needless to say, therefore, the importance of consistent and high-quality interaction simply cannot be overstated.
However, while most parents are wholly aware of how they themselves play a key role in their child’s speech development, many struggle when it comes to the specifics of what to do and when. Is baby talk a good idea at any age? Is it right to correct a child’s mistakes? Where does the barrier lie between playful babbling and real-world conversations?
As any qualified professional working for integratedtreatmentservices.co.uk will confirm, there are differences to be expected in the development of each and every child, but in terms of very rough and flexible guidelines, the following could be of value:
From Birth to 24 Months
There are plenty of ways and means by which baby’s earliest speech and language development can be helped along by parents, which include:
- Single syllable sounds and words are useful in the early years to help baby hone his or her language skills, so encourage words like ‘da’ and ‘ba’ to be repeated.
- Changes in the tone of your voice and also your facial expressions help make obvious what it is you’re saying, so be sure to slightly overstate both when talking to baby.
- Confirmation that baby’s communication has been effective is important in instilling confidence, so when your baby says anything to you at all, repeat it back to them while looking at them.
- All communication during early years should be encouraged, which means that anything from pointing at objects to clapping to touching objects with hands should be encouraged.
- Everything you do with baby throughout the day should be narrated in the simplest possible terms to help communicate what it is you’re doing.
- Always speak numbers, colours and anything else baby plays with, points at or sees while looking in picture books.
- Never overlook the importance of gestures
- Make language development more fun by bringing animal sounds into the equation – the dog says ‘woof’ the pig says ‘oink’ etc.
- There is little more beneficial or downright joyful than reading to your child on a regular basis and from an early age. Encourage interaction and show as much enthusiasm as possible.
From Two to Four Years
Throughout your baby’s development, changes need to be made to the approach you make to speech development in order to compensate for and encourage their further progress.
- At this later stage, it’s important to knock baby talk on the head and begin communicating in a more accurate, grammatically correct manner.
- It’s still important to repeat what the infant says to you while looking at them, but at this stage corrections should be made and emphasized in an encouraging way.
- Get a bunch of pictures together and make a scrapbook of all of your child’s favourite things. They’re much more likely to learn and remember the names of the things they know, love and come into contact with every day.
- Focus more on colours, simple numbers and objects.
- Start working more on simple questions, like asking baby “Is the cat green?” or “Is this an apple?”
- Music can be a great teacher throughout life though is even more important during your child’s early years. As such, nursery rhymes and fun songs can work wonders.
- Begin using photograph albums more regularly to help baby build an understanding of real people, places, animals and so on.
Up to Six Years
Even when a child has begun attending nursery or pre-school, it’s important to understand the importance of continuing the encouragement of their language development at home.
- Never ignore what your child has to say regardless of the content of their story – it’s the language that matters more than the subject itself in many cases.
- Show appreciation for all your child has to say by looking them in the eye and taking the time to listen to them.
- Ask as many questions as possible as often as possible to encourage speech and develop a sense of confidence.
- Nurture your child’s vocabulary by bringing new terms, phrases and words into your chats on an everyday basis.
- Encourage an active interest in music – again, a powerful means of nurturing speech and language development.