Our oldest didn’t talk early per se, but when he started he was basically in full sentences and had already developed an eloquent and clever linguistic style that would rival the best adult debater.
Our youngest was a little later to the party, and although he speaks in sentences LOUDLY and FREQUENTLY, 95% of those sentences are indistinguishable chatter. Instead of saying yes he says ‘tay’ (a variation of ‘okay’ we assume). Instead of please it’s ‘peas’ and sometimes just ‘uhhhh uhhhh uhhhh’ while pointing. And he’s insistent every morning at requesting ‘fishy water’ which even his very tuned-in brother doesn’t understand. He’ll be two in February and we’d be reaching a whole lot to say he’s at the language ‘milestone’ of speaking in multi-word sentences and having between 150-300 words.
Mostly we are unconcerned and very amused. Laughing together about fishy water each morning and engaging with this very social little guy as he gestures wildly and compels you with his big eyes and mischievous smile – there’s no shortage of connection. But every now and then, we worry there is a shortage of verbal communication.
I asked Sharon Evelyn, a speech-language pathologist and owner of Chit Chat Kids in Calgary, for red flags when it comes to language development and tips for helping our youngest expand his vocabulary.
Late talkers are those between 18 to 30 months who can understand language and have typical thinking, play, fine and gross motor skills as their peers, but who aren’t that expressive through language. By 18 months it is common to have about 20 words with nouns (dada), verbs (jump), social greetings (hi), prepositions (on) and descriptive words (hot). By 24 months it is common to have between 150 to 300 words and that ability to combine two words together such as “big doll” or “Mommy, up.” Signs to recognize a late talker might include frequent ear infections, limited consonants, failure to imitate sounds, many more nouns than verbs, limited non-verbal communication, and lack of symbolic play. Many late talkers will simply catch up over time, although 20-30% will need support.
Here are the best strategies from Chit Chat Kids for encouraging language development:
Self-talk: Talk about or describe what you are doing as you are doing it. For example, “I’m opening the fridge, I’m getting the food, now I’m closing the door. Let’s eat!”
Parallel Talk: Talk about or describe what your child is doing as they are doing it! For example, while the child is playing with blocks, the adult might say, “You’re holding the block, the block is big, you’re putting the block in the cup!”
Play: Play is how children learn about their world, social interactions, and communication. During play children watch, explore, listen and imitate. Through play, children can learn to become excellent communicators!
Slow Down: Slowing down gives children the time they need to figure out what you’re doing with your mouth to create sounds and makes it easier to hear individual words.
Talk, Talk and Talk Some More: When we are talking about things that are meaningful to our children we are providing them with a language-rich environment!
Imitation: Show them how it’s done. Start imitating your child’s gestures, actions, sounds and words. If your child drops a toy and holds out his hands as if to say, ‘What happened?” imitate the gesture and say, “Oh-oh”.
Repetitive books: Repetitive books or predictable texts help your child anticipate what word is coming next. After reading a book several times, your child will start to use the new words when you pause for a few seconds and anticipate them filling in the next word. Two excellent examples are: Brown Bear, Brown Bear (Martin, B.) and Who’s Making That Smell (Tyler, J.).
Wait: Giving children time to respond or communicate can be very powerful. Children may need time to think about what has been said. They might need to figure out that it is their turn to say something. And they may need time to figure out what to do with their mouth, tongue and teeth to say what they want. It can help to look at your child expectantly and patiently so they begin to understand when it is their turn and that you value their communication.
Respond to all Communication Attempts: This is another strategy that teaches children that communication is powerful, fun and gets them what they want! The more we respond to their attempts the more likely they will try to communicate again! If your child looks up at a toy on the shelf, you can say, “Drum, you want the drum” while pointing. Next time your child might point to the drum and after many similar exchanges your child might say, “um” or “dum” and even someday “drum”!
Music and Songs: The rhythm of music can be more meaningful to young children than the rhythm of speech. When children hear the same song over and over they begin to learn the rhythm and eventually the words. Start singing a song like you usually would and when you get to a repetitive part of a song, stop and wait to see if your child says or sings the next word. If not, say the word and see if your child imitates you. A great example is with ‘Ring around the Rosie’. After singing and moving to this song many times, keep singing until you get to “husha husha we all fall………………….” keep standing and see if your child either says or sings “down”.
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