Some parents may realize that they share a lot of moments with their child during the ordinary routines of daily living. What some parents may not understand is how to talk, add language, and make the most of each experience they share with their infant, toddler, or preschooler.

Parents can begin to help their children understand different learning experiences by talking about what’s happening or what’s going to happen during daily routines. This can be done by consistent repetition of words. When children hear the same words over and over, they begin to relate the words to familiar situations. Once the child has an understanding of the experience, the child will begin to communicate using words.  For example, during dress time, not only can a child learn the names of clothing, but can also learn some concepts that are a natural part of this routine such as body parts, (e.g. arm, leg, hand) actions, (e.g. pull, push, stand up) or prepositions (e.g. on, off, in, out). If a parent consistently repeats the same words during familiar routines, the child begins to understand and eventually begins to communicate what is understood, (e.g. sock off, shirt off). However, before your child can begin to use true words, you will discover that he is able to string syllables together which consist of consonants and vowels and referred to as babbling (e.g. ba, ma, da).

An easy and natural way to help your child communicate these babbled sounds is through imitating. You can simply imitate your child and the sounds he produces and your child will imitate these sounds back to you. For example, parents often play babbling games with their child during the early stages of language development. The child says “ba,ba” and the adult follows along and imitates “ba-ba.” The child will show that he enjoys the response and interaction by trying to imitate and produce the babbled sounds (e.g. ba-ba) again.  If you find your child engaging in actions such as babbling, smiling, hand clapping, or any kind of movements, imitate them too. Do this frequently throughout the day.

As you continue to imitate your child you can vary your sound patterns. If your child says “pa-pa-pa,” you can say, “pie-pie-pie.” This will allow your child to begin imitating and producing different sound patterns and actions more like your verbal models. Soon you will see your child beginning to imitate sounds and actions that he has never tried before.

Your sound patterns can be modified based on your child’s age.  If your infant is beginning to use sounds, encourage him to imitate your sounds.  If your child is at the early stages of imitating words, remember that a child’s words develop from babbling.  For example, you may hear your child say “baba” as he reaches for his bottle.  You can say, “Bottle, yes, this is your bottle.”  Encourage your child to say true words as soon as you hear babbling sounds.  This will help your child develop more word approximations and true words daily.

During your child’s development, it is important to keep language simple so your child can easily develop an understanding of new words and learn to say them. Language can be added by expanding on your child’s utterances or short phrases. This means that a parent or caregiver can repeat back to the child exactly what the child has said and expand on the utterance. If your child is playing with a ball you can expand on this topic by describing or adding more detailed information. For example, your child may say, “ball,” and you can say, “Yes Tommy, that is a ball.  That is a red ball,” or “Daddy is rolling the red ball.”

Expanding on a topic allows the parent or caregiver the opportunity to respond to a child’s utterance by filling in missing words to make a complete thought or sentence. Your child may say, “it cold.” You can add more information and say, “Yes, it is cold today.  It is very cold outside.” This gives your child a chance to understand more than he is able to express or say.

Although your child may be developing new words and short phrases consistently, he still may be difficult to understand. Therefore, it is very important to continue expanding and adding information to your child’s utterances. For example, instead of saying “Here’s your wa-wa,” parents or caregivers can add information and say, “Here is your water. It’s very cold. You must be thirsty. Don’t spill it!” Your child may reply with, “wa-wa,” but you are allowing him to understand the topic by expanding and adding more descriptive details.

How parents respond to their child can encourage or discourage their child’s language development. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to provide their child with positive feedback following a child’s speech attempts by giving smiles, hugs, or touches along with verbal praise such as good job, nice talking, or I like that. Children learn best when they are encouraged to speak and are praised for their efforts or accomplishments.

It is also important for parents and caregivers to be active listeners. Your child needs to know that you are listening. Don’t be afraid to get down to your child’s level and make eye contact. This will assure your child that you truly are interested in what he has to say. Your child’s expressions and tone of voice will help you understand his message. There will be times when your child becomes frustrated and has a difficult time expressing his needs. During these moments you can help him by trying to understand at least one vocalization, word, or utterance that he is communicating. If you still have trouble understanding your child, give him a few choices and ask him to point to the object of interest.  You can also ask your child “yes/no” questions such as “Do you want your bottle? Do you want milk?” Sometimes these moments will be frustrating for you and your child. Remember to be patient and smile back. Remind your child that you are trying to understand him.

As you interact and engage in daily activities and routines with your child, continue imitating and expanding on your child’s speech attempts. Be an active listener and allow your child to express his wants and needs. Be patient and do not demand too much. Remember that how you talk and respond to your child will encourage or discourage your child’s attempts to speak and of course affect your child’s overall speech and language development.



Jo Ann Gramlich is an award-winning author and speech-language pathologist specializing in helping children with communication disorders in Buffalo, New York. She holds a Master of Science degree in Speech-Language Pathology from SUNY Buffalo and has extensive experience in early intervention, preschool, and school settings. Visit her on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.

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