One of the most exciting things about raising a child is the development of language skills, we wait eagerly for those first words. But when you feel like that is taking longer than usual, it’s natural as a parent to feel anxious.
Two of my children had difficulties or delays in their speech and language, so I know from experience how worrying it can be with late talkers especially with waiting lists so long to be seen by speech and language therapists. You just want to get started with the first steps so you can help your child.
If you are in a similar position, here are some tips for helping your child’s speech and language, and some recommended resources which may prove useful while you are waiting to be seen by a speech-language pathologist.
Don’t under estimate the impact you can have by working with your child at home. Some children need a little more support than other’s to pick up their communication skills, but the important thing is that you noticed and you are ready to help.
If you are interested in learning how to teach your child to talk or to help your child learn to talk, then we hope this article can be of great use to you.
In this post I will recommend a couple of speech and language resources to try out, and share some tips, techniques and games that you can play with your child to help build your child’s attention, encourage simple words or short phrases and benefit your child’s language development without needing to buy expensive products.
First, I will share some general strategies, techniques and speech games which can help, and the recommend speech therapy resources at the end of the post.
Strategies for How to Teach My Child to Talk
Say What You See – 4 Comments for Every Question
One of the main strategies our speech pathologist recommends is “Say what you see” – which could be otherwise described as commenting, rather than just asking a lot of questions.
When talking to children it is not only quantity that counts but also quality.
A lot of the time people without realising talk to babies or toddlers asking a lot of questions like “ooh whats that? what are you doing?” as well as quizzing them “what colour is that?” “how many dogs?” etc – But what speech and language therapists would recommend is that instead of doing this, it is better to focus more on commenting and describing – basically you just say what you see!
This is such a simple concept, but it really does help and the great thing is that it can be done easily throughout the day while your child is playing with their everyday activities.
It takes no extra time or effort as you are playing and talking with them anyway but by using this technique, your child would get more out of it.
I use this myself, and at first if you are not used to talking like this it can seem a bit unnatural or forced, then you get used to it and it would be second nature. So rather than asking a young toddler “what are you doing with the car?” you can comment to them “You’re playing with the car. The car is in the garage!”
For me I find this so much more beneficial for my younger two children who are actually not very verbal at the moment (as one has quite severely delayed language due to a combination of Autism, Speech disorder and mild hearing loss, and the other is still quite young and not yet developed so much language)
If I think logically, why would I be asking them questions that I know they are not able to answer, whereas if I comment then they will be absorbing all of this information.
Obviously no one will say never ask questions to your child! Simple questions are valuable too, especially when pitched at a level your child can manage.
There is a a rule of thumb which I have seen suggested: One question for every 4 comments – Like the digits on your hand, one thumb and 4 fingers which makes it easy to remember just as a rough guideline.
This is a way in which simple questions can be used really effectively. If your child or toddler is struggling to communicate, then offering two choices and encouraging them to point at the one they want, is a brilliant first step in communication.
Not all communication is verbal, think about body language too. A baby, toddler or child learning to point at something they want is a great first communication.
As your child’s speech develops, you can leave an expectant pause and wait for them to say the word, and choose verbally.
Another technique which I have found had a really good impact for my children is simplifying the language, and this works really well alongside the commenting strategy.
You always hear the advice “Talk to your child. The more you talk, the more they will learn.” This is true BUT if you talk non stop in complex sentences with advanced vocabulary and difficult sentence structure, for many children this can be really difficult and they may not take any of it in because it is too much information.
Because my 3 year old has Autism, we went on a local Earlybird course and this was one of the communication strategies mentioned. It’s really helpful for children with delayed language and understanding, or very young children who don’t have advanced understanding because of their age.
You can use one word sentences to reinforce what the child is seeing or doing, and then expand on this with two words or very simple sentences.
For example if the child is playing with a car just simply commenting “car”, and if they hold it up to show you, you could say “big car” or “red car” rather than a long complex sentence about look at the car, how fast its going wow its so shiny and red and has 4 wheels and etc etc etc.
With some children less is more then it allows them to consolidate what they have learned and heard.
Baby Talk aka Motherese
Sometimes you hear mums complaining about simplified language or babyish language, saying “why do people speak like this it will teach the children to speak wrongly” and that kind of thing.
For example I’m sure we all have heard people moaning about the way the characters speak on Waybuloo or Tellytubbies – but there is a reason we instinctively turn to baby talk with little ones.
Simplified language does not make children grow up speaking like that forever, it simply gives them the chance to start understanding language more easily when they are at a basic level, and once that understanding is there then they have the foundations to move on.
I am not advocating using made up words. We want to teach the child that a car is called a car, not a brum brum. A dog is a dog, not a woof woof, because you want to give your child the best chance to understand others and be understood.
Real language, used in simple sentences, in a slightly higher pitch, slower pace and a sing song tone, using facial expressions, is proven to be the most effective to grab your baby’s attention. This is also called Motherese or Parentese and is used instinctively in communities all across the world.
Which Words are Most Useful?
If your child has a limited amount of words, as all young children do when they are learning to talk, you want to focus on useful words when expanding your child’s vocabulary.
Focus on the right words, which will help them express their needs.
Drink, milk, more, bed, all-done, look, go, no… all of these are going to be more valuable for your baby or toddler than learning abstract concepts like colors, numbers or their abc, when they are still just learning to talk.
The new language that we introduce should be meaningful and relevant for the child, and if it fits with your child’s interests that is going to be very motivating for the child too.
You also want to work on recognising the child’s name. An important milestone is a child recognising and responding to their own name, and later saying their own name.
Special Word to Listen For
When reading a book, give your child a special word to listen out for, and ring a bell or clap their hands when they hear it. This helps to develop their attention and listening skills.
DIY Musical Shakers
You can play all kinds of listening games with home made shakers, this activity is two fold – making the instrument with your child and then using them for listening and sing song games.
We have lots of examples of games on the link below.
As your child gets older and more developed in speech and language you can also use these home made syllable sticks to practice listening out for the sounds within words and developing phonemic awareness
I find signing so useful for my 3 year old, he uses Signalong but Makaton is another very similar language and these really can help to support language development. It eases the frustration by giving the child a method of communicating while words are still developing.
For visual learners, signing seems to help them to remember and get the words out. My son joined two signs together long before he joined two words together.
I would recommend going on a course if you can, then you can buy extra resources like books of signing vocabulary, and pick up extra signs even from the internet or Mr Tumble. The course gave me the confidence and foundation to get a great start in it, so that we could go further with it and that made a massive difference.
Ask at your local children’s centre in case there is anything available, otherwise the courses can be quite expensive
Limit Pacifier Use
If your baby or toddler is a big fan of the pacifier or dummy, you need to make sure they still get plenty of time in the day without the pacifier in their mouth.
If you can limit pacifier use to sleep time, it will have less opportunity to affect your baby’s speech development.
Speech and Language Development Resources
These resources and games are helpful for typically developing children too, who don’t have any difficulties with their speech and language but you just want to encourage them and help them along.
I have been given a couple of speech and languages resources to try out and review recently so I thought I would make a little guide of some of the resources or help that is out there, also including others that I have been using for a while with my little ones and hopefully it will prove useful for anyone who is not sure where to look for help!
Small Talk by Nicola Lathey
This is a book by Speech and Language therapist Nicola Lathey, which I was sent by Mum Panel to try out. The book starts right at the beginning and covers ways of supporting your child’s speech and language develop from birth, and even in the womb!
This is a great book to support and encourage parents to make it easy to give your child the best start.
I would say it is more focused towards typically developing children and is a more general book to support speech and language development, rather than being something targeted towards any specific difficulties but it is a very good book and it really does cover an awful lot. I found the case studies quite interesting and there are lots of little small talk game ideas which you can use.
Sookie and Finn Talk with Us
These are DVD and flashcard resources devised by Speech and Language therapists. You can also download the videos to your iPad.
I have had these for quite a while now. They were recommended to me by some mums on Mumsnet – which btw is a fantastic resource if you do have any concerns about your child, the behaviour and development, parenting or special needs sections of the forum are a wealth of information and support.
You can watch some clips of the Sookie and Finn dvds on the website to see whether it will be suitable for your child.
I found them pretty good. If you want something for your child to watch which would be more beneficial than regular TV, then Sookie and Finn could fill that role. Perhaps you don’t want to totally limit screen time, so choosing the right shows instead of cutting out all screen time is a good idea for a middle ground.
You can also choose shows like Sesame Street or Yaka dee (CBeebies) which are also great for introducing new words. Yaka dee focuses on modelling joining two words together, it is a brilliant show for your child’s language skills.
When I first watched these, I could tell without a doubt the whole way through that yes it is developed by Speech and Language therapists, but family and friends who have seen them couldn’t really notice anything. “Isn’t it just like normal toddler’s TV?” one asked me – That is because the differences are quite subtle! Which means that your child won’t notice that you are letting them watch speech therapy shows and they will just consider it something to enjoy.
We have the “Our Day” DVD and flash cards and just looking at the site now I’ve noticed there are also a couple of DVDs about going to school. We also have the flashcards which can be used for a variety of activities to help speech or understanding (my 3 year old really likes the flashcards!). It’s really nice that the flashcards and DVD go together so you can connect what your child has seen, with the activities you follow up with with the flashcards.
I would recommend picture flashcards as a really helpful resource in general, as well as picture books – NOT to quiz or drill the child with the flashcards if they are not ready, willing or able, but just to use with simple games to help support their language.
Picture and Vocabulary books
Any of the books which have lots of pictures and words have been really useful for my children and make a nice change from story books.
With a not so developed attention span, I have found these better for my younger two on some occasions as the child can go at their own pace and does not have to sit still and listen for so long, but is still able to listen and attend at their own level and pick up some language.
These can be bought from most book shops but some I would recommend are:
In general, Dorling Kindersley and Priddy Books are some of the best for these kind of books as they have loads but I even have one which I got from the 99p store which was published specially for them and my children have used it loads!
Story books do obviously have their place too and simple books with repetition or rhyme can be great for those who are still developing their first language skills, like the That’s not my…. series from Usbourne eg That’s Not My Dinosaur (Touchy-Feely Board Books)
I actually don’t have these books! But I have heard them recommended so much that I think it would be wrong to leave them out, if you want a more in depth book these have been really highly recommended. “It takes two to talk” for language delays and “More than words” specifically focusing on Autism.
Simple board games can be really good to help develop children’s attention, listening and turn taking skills which are all the basic skills they need to help language progress, and Orchard Toys have loads to choose from. Simple matching games or puzzles can also be used.
The best way to learn and pick up new skills is through play. It’s great to get a balance of independent play, role play and pretend play, and focused play with an adult to share joint attention and follow simple instructions.
There are also charities around like I Can where you can go for some more help or advice if you are worried about your child’s communication
If you want to go down the private route, there are sites where you can find details and contact info of speech therapists in your area and what they specialise in – eg Help With Talking. Often there are waiting lists with the best therapists even with private, but most will be willing to discuss your child with you over the phone to see what kind of help they would need and whether that is something they could offer.
As a lot of NHS therapy is group based in some areas, you might consider private for one to one. Not all therapists would suit every child and don’t feel that just because they are a qualified speech therapist that you can never disagree with their approach to your child. If you are not happy, then maybe it is not the right therapist. I did have to change therapists as one I originally got from Help With Talking did not work out for us, although I would recommend the website in general!
Personal recommendations from other Mums are often priceless though and the best indication you could go on. As one of my sons has a specific disorder (Verbal Dyspraxia) rather than a general language delay, I got a recommendation from another mum who’s child has the same condition. That way we got someone who is really brilliant for him! Forums and Facebook groups can be a great way to find out this kind of information.
There is so much more that can be said but hopefully some of the resources there will be useful.
I would also like to say, I am not a fan of the “don’t worry they all learn eventually” attitude which leads parents to believe they should not seek help or assessment about speech and language concerns. Sometimes it’s true and a child will just suddenly have a language explosion and off they go! BUT not always. Well meaning people may try to reassure parents by saying “so and so never spoke til they were 5”, “boys are always slow at talking” or comments along these lines.
If you have a genuine concern, it is always so much better to have your child seen! Speech therapy waiting lists can be very long and this is something to keep in mind when taking the “leave it and see” route.
Always take your child for hearing tests too, to rule that. Hearing problems can be a big factor in speech delay and language difficulties. You need to know what are the obstacles that are facing your child so that you can help them in the way that’s going to be most suitable.
For more ideas, and specific activities to try, follow our Speech & Language Pinterest board