Do you remember learning to speak? Probably not. For most of us, it just seemed to happen naturally. However, because speech and language are acquired, there always is a learning process involved. For some children, this is seamless and right on schedule. For others, it isn’t. Sometimes there are medical reasons, and other times, children set their own schedules. No matter what the reason, there are things you can do to encourage this process.
The most important thing is to provide a rich language environment. This is not synonymous with you talking a lot or talking at your child; neither of these communicate that words are valuable. This kind of environment also won’t blossom when your child is trying to communicate with you, and you’re distracted by TV, talking on the phone, listening to someone else, engrossed in your magazine, etc. How, then, is this optimal environment for acquiring speech and language created at home?
■ Listen. Communicating the message is only part of communication. The other part requires a listener, someone who understands the message. Stop what you’re doing and get eyeball to eyeball with your child when he or she wants to communicate with you. This means you might have to get down on your knees.
■ Keep the TV off and look at books. Don’t bother reading the text; instead, choose a couple of favorites and look at them over and over, naming the objects in the pictures with appropriate sound effects. Make it fun. Snuggle. After looking at the book for the 100th time, your child may be able to say what the object is when you point to it or make the sound the object makes.
■ Dumb down your speech. Parents tend to talk to our toddlers as though they are adults or use baby talk. Neither are appropriate. If you talk to them in long sentences, they will tune out most of what you say. Only say the important words necessary to convey your message. For example, instead of saying, “It’s a gorgeous day today. Would you like to play outside with your cars and trucks?” all you need to say is, “Play outside?” and your message has scored. Using two- to three-word phrases with your child is perfect.
■ Drastically reduce questions. We ask way too many questions of our little ones. Only ask yes or no questions when your child really has a choice in his or her answer. Instead of questions, make comments about what the child is seeing, what he or she is doing or eating, what daddy is doing, etc. Narrate your child’s world.
What a privilege we have as parents to be involved personally in the development of our children in all areas. Part of that joy is creating a rich language environment for them to feel empowered to communicate — even if you might eventually wish they didn’t talk so much.
Mona Entwistle is a speech-language pathology assistant with Horizons Specialized Services. Horizons’ Services for Children has been a member of the Routt County Early Childhood Council since its inception in 1997.