As Speech Therapists, we have a few tricks up our sleeves that we use to nudge along speech and language development. However, these tricks don’t seem that mind blowing or ground breaking when you first hear about them!
I remember sitting in an Early Communication Intervention (ECI) class and thinking: “Really? Is this it?!” As I’ve grown older and more experienced, I’ve seen how effective ECI principles are, and how often someone interacting with a child automatically does the opposite of what is recommended! Let’s go through a few of what I consider to be the most important strategies to assist with speech and language development.
- Arrange the environment
The first step is to arrange the environment. Think about where your child is most comfortable. For some children, sitting at a little table might be ideal. For others, rolling around on the floor might be a better environment! Reduce disctractions, like a television or having too many toys lying around. Select a few different toys or activities, or better yet, let your child select them! Make sure that they’re age appropriate, and preferably familiar toys. Then put away the rest and focus on a few for a while.
Think about how long you’re going to have a special, focused play time. It doesn’t need to be long (even 5 minutes can be very beneficial!), but it needs to be a time where your attention can be fully on the activities.
- Allow silence!
This is a difficult one! I still struggle with this, after years of giving therapy. When we’re targeting language and speech, we assume that we need to be bombarding the child with as much modeling as possible! That’s not the case at all, in fact, some children may feel overwhelmed by this and be less likely to want to communicate.
Silence can be a powerful tool when encouraging communication. It allows for non-verbal communication to take place, it allows your child to have time to formulate requests and utterances and it gives them a chance to initiate communication! Research has found that moments of silence are usually followed by moments of increased communication or communication intent!
- Follow your child’s lead
This is another difficult one. Quite often you may have a plan in your head of how you want your special time with your child to go: you’ve planned the perfect Pinterest activity, set up the perfect space, got rid of distractions… But your child is more interested in the box the stationeries came in than doing the actual activity!
When this happens, think of what your goal of your special time is. Is it to complete the activity? No. Your goal is to develop speech and language. And here your child’s attention is actively on something! Use this opportunity and turn your attention to what your child is doing. Can you use this to develop speech and language?
- Avoid yes/no questions.
Turn-taking is an extremely important pre-linguistic skill (a skill needed to assit with the development of language). So when we’re having special time with a child, turn-taking is usually one of the goals we have in mind! So why shouldn’t we use yes/no questions? Because it’s one of the quickest ways to stop a turn-taking exchange! When you ask “Did you like playing with Sarah?” the only possible answer is yes or no.
Whilst there are situations where there is value in yes/no questions, it is important to know why you’re asking them. Is it because your child is emotionally overwhelmed? Then go ahead, ask your yes/no question. Is it because you need a quick answer? Go ahead. But if your whole idea with asking the question is to start a communication exchange, rather ask open-ended questions, or take part in an activity where you can communicate in a more naturalistic manner.
Techniques may seem like an overly fancy word once I’ve described them to you! These are extremely simple, but so valuable when communicating with your child!
- Imitating: Imitation is the technique that most parents use automatically. When they hear their child say something, their automatic response is to imitate. This is valuable as it communicates to the child that what they said was heard and understood.
- Modeling: Model the language that you want your child to use. It’s not necessary to focus excessively on form, but use whole sentences. Modeling provides a child with a language framework which they can in turn imitate and build on.
- Questioning: As I discussed earlier when talking about yes/no questions,open ended questions are very important when encouraging conversation exchanges!
- Paraphrasing: Paraphrasing means that you take what you hear your child saying, and you put it in your own words. This can be helpful when trying to clarify what your child is saying, as your child can then correct what you’ve paraphrased. Paraphrasing also reassures your child that his message is being understood!
- Expanding: Expanding means to take something that your child says and to add information to it. For example, if your child says “Ball!” you can then add information to that utterance by firstly reinforcing what he said, and then expanding it: “Yes, ball! It’s a big, red ball. Let’s throw it!”
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