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How To Talk With Young Children: 3 Communication Tools For Parents

Aug 29, 2008
As a parent, you may wonder what you can do to help your child learn *how* to speak. Amazingly, most children naturally acquire language just by daily experiences listening to others speak. Parents sometimes try to "jump-start" their child's speech in different ways. Some of these ways intuitively are helpful; other methods may actually discourage children from attempting to speak.

Rather than listing things you should not do, let me share with you 3 techniques that I use as a speech-language pathologist to promote language development. You may recognize that you are already using these methods intuitively without realizing it! Let me encourage you to spend some time each day using these communication techniques with your child.

The first tool available to you is to simply acknowledge and repeat what your child is saying, but adding just a bit more information to what your child said. For example, if your child says "du" for "juice", and you know that your child is requesting more, you can say "want more juice?". This will provide additional information about how to pronounce the word "juice", as well as to demonstrate expanded grammar. In fact, this technique is known as "expansion", and is a helpful concept for parents to understand. (By the way, this does not include expectation of your child repeating back your words like a parrot! You are simply providing additional information - with a smile - in the context of a naturally occurring event.)

The second tool you can use is to comment about what you are doing, or what your child is doing, while the event or activity is happening. Again, this does not involve expecting your child to repeat anything. It simply means that you are providing a verbal narrative of what is happening. I would suggest keeping your sentences short for toddlers or preschoolers who are speaking in phrases, and to using single words or two word phrases for children who are just beginning to speak with single words. You might think of this as narrating an event.

A third tool is to understand, accept, and relish the pronunciation that your child is using during their speaking attempts. Too often parents attempt to correct their children's speech, with the effect of discouraging speaking, or turning it into a control issue. By acknowledging your understanding of what your child is saying, and re-stating the words (as mentioned above), you increase the likelihood of your child's desire to keep talking. We really want communication between you and your child to be an enjoyable event. Developmental pronunciation is how children learn!

A caveat to the above suggestions: if you have specific concerns regarding your child's speech, hearing, or language development, please contact your child's pediatrician, family physician, or school district in your area. The above information is to provide parents information as to how they can support and encourage language growth. It is not meant to replace needed assessment and intervention.

I will continue to post articles on child speech and language development in the coming weeks. Please check back soon!
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