As a parent or caregiver it is never too early to enhance your child’s language and communication. Believe it or not, early communication begins in the first couple months of life. Newborns will coo and turn their head towards you as you talk to them. As your newborn grows they will begin to babble and have various types of cries depending on their needs. In the toddler years, children will begin to use gestures such as pointing and waving. They will also begin to make sounds with intonation and try to imitate words. All of these are early forms of communication.
Speech and language is beyond just talking. Pre-speech and language skills begin with the ability to imitate sounds; turn-taking skills (learned through games such as peek-a-boo); visual skills (looking at the speaker and looking at objects); auditory skills (listening to speech sounds); tactile skills (learning about touch, exploring objects in the mouth); oral motor skills (using the tongue, moving lips); and cognitive skills (understanding object permanence, cause and effect relationships).
Parents and caregivers are the primary communicators interacting with their babies and young children. There is a great deal of things that you can do to help your children learn to communicate. Here are some tips to help enhance your child’s speech and language skills:
§ Remember that language is more than spoken words. When you are modeling words keep in mind that language can be reciprocated through gestures and facial expressions as well.
§ Provide many models. Many times repetitions and experiences are needed to happen in order to learn a word. Repeat and model what your child says.
§ Use real objects and real situations. When you are teaching a concept, use daily activities and real situations as much as possible. For example, teach the names of foods as your toddler is eating them. Name and ask them to identify body parts while you are bathing your child. It is important to keep in mind that communication is part of yours and your child’s daily life.
§ Make reading to your child part of your daily routine. Reading is a very enriching learning experience. Reading can simply be looking at the pictures and making up a story of your own. Asking your child to point to pictures in the book and eventually name them. Remember that this should be a fun time for both you and your child but keep in mind that offering information rather than drilling with questions is the best approach. This will put less pressure on your child and make them more comfortable to begin talking to you.
§ Follow your child's lead. If your child shows interest in an object, person or event, build off of that and provide them with a word for that concept. There are many milestones as the child progresses towards using speech.
§ Most importantly, take the time to get down to your child’s level and HAVE FUN playing with them. Learning happens through play!
If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s development, reach out to your pediatrician or you can also contact the Family Center at Northwestern Counseling & Support Services and speak with the Children’s Integrated Services Intake Coordinator, Heather Wilson, at (802) 393-6601.
Submitted by Liza Boudreau, Children’s Integrated Services, Early Interventionist, NCSS Children, Youth & Family Services Division.