Do you feel it? The pressure to get your child speaking as soon as possible? If you do, know that you’re not the only one. But try to remember that different skills come at different times because each child really is different. The best thing you can do is support them through it, and here are our top tips on doing just that.
1. Focus on communication rather than talking
You can practise communication skills even if your child isn’t quite at the point where they can string words together. Focus on eye contact, pointing and gestures, joint engagement in an activity, play, and understanding.
2. Narrate everything
As much as possible, when you’re doing things with your baby, tell them exactly what’s happening, e.g. ‘Let’s change your nappy. Time to lie down. One leg out! Two legs out! Ooooh cold! Let’s clear up the wee wee. Wipe wipe wipe. Clean nappy. One leg in. Two legs in. All done!’
3. Give them time
Every child needs time to process language and learn new vocabulary. After saying something, pause for around 10 seconds to give your child time to work out what you’ve said and respond, whether through a gesture, babble, word, or sentence. This will also help them develop an understanding of how conversation works.
4. Sing songs together
Don’t you find it so much easier to memorise lyrics than anything else? Your little one works the same way. The repetition of songs is really useful for babies’ vocabulary, and will make it more enjoyable for them too!
5. Read books
Books are one of the best ways to develop our children’s speech, particularly those that repeat similar phrases throughout. Reading works best if you slow down and take the time to point at things in the pictures, say hi to characters, pause to let your child join in, and add actions.
6. Pair a word with an action
Words become more interesting when we add an action. If you do the action every time you say a word, this will help your little one remember the word better. For example, every time you say ‘yay!’ you might clap your hands. Rhymes such as head, shoulders, knees and toes are also really great for this.
7. Build up, step by step
Babies usually develop their speech gradually, starting with actions, moving on to sounds, finding a few words, and then eventually starting sentences. Wherever they are, you can always encourage the next step. For example, if your child can snort like a pig, then you can start saying ‘oink!’ whenever they do this. Or if they can say the word ‘car’, you can build on this by saying, ‘Yes, car! Blue car.’
8. Talk about things that interest your child
Take the opportunities where your child is naturally engaged with a topic to practise their speech. Watch, follow their lead, and try to create play activities that will hold their interest.
9. Create one-to-one time
Sometimes older siblings can begin to talk for their younger siblings, so the younger child feels less of a need to talk… or simply can’t get a word in! Make time where it’s just you and your little one so you can both fully engage with each other.
10. Instead of questions, think comments
It’s so easy to fall into quizzing out children to see if their speech has developed. But instead of ‘can you say “car”?’, ‘what’s this?’ or ‘what does a dog say?’, try ‘look! A car! Beep beep!’, ‘A flower! Pretty flower.’, and ‘The dog says woof woof!’ This will help build your little one’s word bank, rather than pile on the pressure.
If you’re worried about your child’s speech development, make an appointment with your GP to discuss it. Your doctor will be able to refer you to a speech and language therapy department, if necessary. You can also refer your child to a speech and language therapist yourself.