If you’re like most parents, you can’t wait for your child to start speaking in complete sentences. But how do you help your child along without pushing them? Here are 10 tips to fast-track your child’s first words.
While we can’t change our children, we can change their environment, and the environment is everything when it comes to learning and having your child’s first words.
– Intentionally repeated the same word multiple times during an activity?
– Provided an easy gap for your child to chime in (‘Old McDonald had a…’)?
– Kept your sentences simple (e.g., ‘Cuddle teddy,’ ‘Eat more,’ ‘Come up’) so that your child could keep up? or
– Manipulated the environment to encourage communication (e.g., by putting your child’s favourite toy out of reach and waiting to see what happens next…).
Yes, children develop at their own pace. But no, all environments are not the same for stimulating language learning.
You can also do hundreds of things at home today to fast-track your child’s first words.
Babies are natural communicators who start sending us messages from the moment they are born through sounds, body movements, and gestures.
These messages rapidly become more complex and, with the proper support and environment, usually turn into your child’s first words somewhere between the ages of 12 and 24 months.
Remember – from day dot, a child’s most influential teachers are their parents, caregivers, and educators. No app, YouTube video, curriculum, or ‘magic wand’ can teach a child to talk.
Language skills are developed daily through meaningful, natural, face-to-face interactions between children and the adults around them. And in due time, you’ll hear your child’s first words.
If you’ve been eagerly awaiting your child’s first words, don’t worry – you can help speed things along with some simple activities at home. Here are four ways to promote language development and help your child blossom into a talkative toddler.
Keep in mind that every child is different, so don’t be discouraged if your little one takes a little longer to start talking. Just enjoy watching them learn and grow!
Sit on the floor with your child or directly opposite them in their high chair. Face-to-face interactions make it easier for your child to focus on your mouth while you are speaking and learn how they can make those sounds too.
We are all guilty of this, but children don’t really benefit from our questions – what they need is to be taught the answer. For example, instead of saying ‘What’s this animal?’, ‘What sound does it make?’, try saying ‘Moo!’ ‘The cow says moo!’. Onomatopoeia works best for your child’s first words.
‘Fast mapping’ is when a child can quickly add a new word to their mental dictionary because they can easily connect the word and the thing it is referring to. To encourage fast mapping, focus on the ‘here and now and talk about things in your child’s immediate environment. It also helps to comment on something your child is already looking at (for example, say ‘pram’ if you can see your child looking at their pram).
Talk about what you are seeing, doing, or hearing at multiple points throughout the day. For example, if you are walking with your child, you might talk about things you see on the way (e.g., ‘I see a tree. I hear a car’). Although self-talk can initially feel silly, your child is learning a lot from you.
For example, if your child is playing with blocks, you could say something like, ‘You are building. You have the colour green. By talking about activities and objects your child is already engaged in, you increase the likelihood that they are interested in what you are saying. It helps them to learn vocabulary more quickly.
Remember, a child must hear a word multiple times before they are ready to say it themselves. If there is a particular word you would like your child to learn, use it repeatedly to show them how it can be used. That way, you can have your child’s first words in no time.
In most (if not all) households, toys tend to be easily accessible. Consider placing some of your child’s favourite toys out of reach but still in view. By doing this, you are encouraging your child to ask for them. Remember that asking may look different depending on your child’s age and stage of language development. It may start with only pointing and then transition over time to a word like ‘more,’ ‘want,’ or even the toy’s name.
Practise pausing for up to 10 seconds during an interaction to give your child a chance to communicate. During this time, resist the temptation to ask questions or anticipate your child’s wants and needs. For example, if you know your child wants their bottle, wait and see if your child can communicate this themselves before you get it for them. If they cannot find the words, ensure you provide a model for them (e.g., ‘you want a bottle,’ ‘want,’ ‘bottle’) so they have a better chance next time.
Like adults, children learn best when they are happy, well-regulated, and enjoying themselves. Reading books, playing games, and having fun with your child are some of the best things you can do to fast-track your child’s first words at home.
Speech Pathologists are communication experts who are specially trained to support children’s language development and can give you peace of mind knowing you’re doing everything possible to set your little one up to be a confident and successful communicator. Remember that it’s never too early (or too late!) to contact a Speech Pathologist to get a second opinion on your child’s language development and to check that everything is tracking how your child’s first words should be.
Although the process of acquiring language is a gradual one, there are ways to develop your child’s first words to speed up the process. By following these tips, you can give your child a head start on developing their first words.
Remember, every child learns differently and at their own pace, so don’t be discouraged if your child doesn’t reach all of these milestones.
Continue providing opportunities for them to engage in conversation and interact with others, and soon enough they’ll be chatting away like pros!
Are there any other techniques that have worked well for you when it comes to helping your child learn to speak? Share them in the comments below.