This past year my 4yr. old daughter qualified for speech services from our local school district. This was new territory for me. Thankfully, my good friend Pam, who is a Speech and Language Pathologist, helped answer some of my questions and concerns.
What can I do at home to help my toddler/preschooler with speech and language development?
Become a narrator. The best thing anyone can do is talk to his/her child. Reduce distractions (turn off everything that has a screen), look your child in the eye and talk, talk, talk. Talk to your child about everything s/he is doing like a sport commentator:
“Honey, you are sitting on the floor. You are playing with blocks. I see a red one, a blue one, and a green one. You are stacking the blocks.”
Talk about what you are doing.
“Mommy is washing dishes. These dishes are so dirty. I’m putting a little soap in the water (while putting in dish soap). I’m scrubbing the food off (while scrubbing.)”
The “official” terms for these strategies are “parallel talk” and “self talk.” You will feel self conscious at first, but this how children learn language– by mass exposure.
While implementing these strategies, be mindful of HOW you speak. You need to help your child tune into you, the speech model, or you will literally be wasting your breath. To do this, turn off the technology (t.v.’s and computers are loud and pull the visual attention away from you,) slow your rate of talking and slightly increase your volume. If you think you speak slowly enough, you don’t. Slow down a little more. Even if you are a loud person, go ahead and turn up your volume a bit. So often the reason children have delayed speech or language is fluctuating hearing loss. Fluid collects in the middle ear, which causes a temporary hearing impairment. If the fluid becomes infected, you see symptoms and get treatment. However, if the fluid does NOT become infected, you will not know the fluid is there (no symptoms) but your child will still not be able to hear everything. Your child can’t learn speech and language very easily if s/he cannot hear it. If you make a habit of talking a little louder and little slower all the time, you help your child hear and learn whether fluid is present or not. Talking slower and louder may make you feel a little self-conscious until you get used to it, but it is worth the benefit of your child gaining skills and confidence.
Parallel Talk and Self Talk are strategies you can employ at all times–in the car, in public, and at home. Don’t set aside time to do these, just make them a habit. If your child is in the room, use Parallel Talk and Self Talk. This will motivate your child to talk.
Do you have any questions for the SLP? If so, leave them in the comments section or send an email, and Pam will address them in another guest post.
What a wonderful post! I had to figure this out the hard way. I remember telling my husband that I was worried that wasn't talking to my children enough. I didn't know what to say and finally decided to try the parallel talk and self talk (although I just found out that is what it is called). I felt ridiculous at first, but now I have two very talkative kids and no end of discussion.
I would love to hear from Pam what she thinks about what words to use with children. I have been criticized for using advanced words and told I should use smaller words that the kids understand. I always define new words and the kids know that they can ask me about a word I use that they don't understand. Should I be changing my vocabulary or keep these words in with the thought that they will pick them up eventually?
Great question! I'll make sure Pam sees this. 🙂
happy's mommy says
Hope you don't mind that I linked you in to a post on my blog today?
It's a topic near n' dear to my heart. I'm fortunate to have wonderful SPLs wrapping my little man (and me) up with their wisdom…so I don't personally have any questions. But I think some of my readers might…
Thanks for a wonderful post!
Fantastic post, I have 5 children ages 8, 7, 5, 3 and 6months. I have had no problems with my first child but my 7 year old in her speech instead of using the correct 'th' sound for words like the, this that etc, she would use a 'd' sound, this became clear to me when she first started writing and was putting dat, day, for that and they. As she has improved I have had to teach her out of the habit. I have realised that my 5 year old is starting to do the same, please can you help? I think it may be an accent issue picked up from my husband.
JDaniel4's Mom says
These are great ideas! I love talking to JDaniel anyway!
thank you for the post. Is this also true for children that have a lisp? My 3yr old daughter has a slight lisp. Some people might think it is just baby talk but she actually began speaking early with a good vocabulary. Her comprehension is good, but now at 3 1/2 she still talks like a 2 year old. At her 3yr old check up the Dr. said they'd re-evaluate at the 4yr appt, but I don't want to delay anything I could be doing to help her at home.
Tara, I know it can't hurt 🙂 I'll make sure Pam sees your question so she can answer it directly.
Pam Turner says
Carpenters, vocabulary enrichment is a wonderful thing! Incorporating advanced words is fine, just don't throw in too many. Children really do need lots of exposure to words before we can expect them to understand them and use them correctly. More importantly, think about relevance. If a certain advanced word is part of your family's life (e.g., "organic," "diabetes," etc.), definitely use it. However, if your child becomes accustomed to using a wide variety of advanced words (some kids can pick up new words easily), you could be putting them at a disadvantage socially. If their peers don't understand the words they are using, they can feel disconnected or left out.
Pam Turner says
Hi, maryanneader (sp?),
When a specific speech sound is a concern to you, the best thing to do is be a good speech model for your child and consult an SLP. SLPs have extensive education and experience regarding how to treat speech sounds and at what age specific sounds should be addressed, and because children are all so unique, an SLP can tell you what is best for your unique little one 🙂 Public schools, hospitals, and private clinics are all good options for consulting an SLP because all SLPs meet the same educational and professional requirements to be licensed to do what they do.
Pam Turner says
Tara, you bring up a good point about speech sound development. Sounds develop at different ages, so it's okay if your preschooler doesn't say all sounds correctly. The trick is knowing when different sounds should appear. Internet research is great, but be aware different normative data will give you slightly different information, same with doctors. I've personally found that children typically develop a good /s/ on their own by age 7, but if they don't I contact parents. If you are unsure about your child's intelligibility or uncomfortable with waiting for a sound to develop, consult an SLP 🙂
Hi – I am a little late to this conversation but just wanted to add that some states offer free evaluations and even mostly free (depending on your income) speech (and other kinds of) therapy. We adopted 2 kids with speech delays and both went through the GA Babies Can't Wait program from the time they were 2 until they turned 3 and it was all either free or almost and then my insurance picked up the difference. One of the kids also had to get PT and OT because he has a mild case of brain damage that makes his muscles very weak. And since they were both already in this program, they got referred to our County school therapy programs and have both qualified to receive FREE speech therapy through the county school system during the school year. So if you have concerns, you should research to see if your state has programs like that. I would have not had any idea if no one had told me.