April 3, 2021 — By Wendy Sachs
We can’t wait for our children to talk to us! What a joy it is to hear what they think and feel. But language development is not always a smooth pathway. Let’s chat about this a little.
Speech v Language
There is a big difference between speech and language. Speech refers to the actual sounds, the muscle and mechanical ways that words are produced. Language is more about communication and meaning. There is expressive language – letting others know what you are thinking and receptive language which is understanding others. It is a lot to learn in just a few months!
Speech and language are usually monitored very closely at your well child appointments by your pediatrician. Parents should not worry if every milestone is not at the exact published age. Speech is developed at an individual rate. And if there are delays, they usually correct themselves or respond well to temporary therapy.
That being said there are some ways we can support and encourage speech and language development. Let’s talk about a few of those strategies.
Strategies for Young Kids
From the beginning we instinctively respond to our babies’ cries- their first speech! Making sure we make eye contact, and talking to them as though their cries and our words are conversation. It may feel awkward, but having these chats with babies will help pattern their brains to the back and forth of communication. You can sportscast your movements, simply do the play by play, and help start to build vocabulary! “I am seeing you are upset, baby. Is your diaper wet? I am going to change your diaper! It will feel dry and comfy.” This will also help build your relationship with baby and help kids start to understand the patterns and routines of our days.
Toddlers’ First Sounds and Words
When kids start to use simple words you can really begin to create opportunities for practice. Put objects in sight but slightly out of reach and wait for kids to ask in some way for that item. They may not say the actual word, but a sound is fine. You can hold a toy they want and wait for them to ask for the toy. You don’t want to frustrate the child but they may get a little antsy. That is fine, from that uncomfortable spot your child will be motivated to stretch and make noises.
When you sing songs or do finger plays, leave off the last word of phrases and let the child fill in the blanks! This works so well with rhyming songs. It also works on favorite books as we all know that children want the same stories over and over. They know the words so see if you can help them to fill in blanks.
Once kids are speaking you may notice that they don’t have each sound correct and clear. For instance, the /r/ sound may not be clear until after a child is 5 years old. This does not mean they need speech interventions necessarily. Be sure to check with a child’s teacher and pediatrician if you are concerned.
Baby Talk to Real Words
While baby talk, that sing-song sounding chat we use with infants and toddlers, is great at the beginning of their development, as children grow we should remember to use real words and to stop using it when it no longer feels right. The more we model correct grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation the better. If a child needs a correction, instead of asking the child to correct, just repeat back what they said in the correct way and keep moving.