My first child talked early and was speaking in sentences in no time at all. Speech came to her effortlessly. I never gave baby language development a second thought until my second child came along.
My second child didn’t have more than a few words months before her second birthday. I had no idea how to help her. The worst part was that since she didn’t have words, she would get frustrated and hitting and screaming were common occurrences in our house.
So, we set up an appointment with early intervention by our pediatricians’ recommendation and started speech therapy. It was the best decision I ever made because after a few months, she was speaking in 5-word sentences. Her vocabulary exploded.
The speech therapy she received was actually just parent coaching and so here I will share you everything I learned and what really made the difference for how to help baby talk.
First, what is normal baby language development?
When we started, the speech therapist went over what was normal. This was helpful to me and gave me a better perspective since my only comparison was my first child.
At about 6 months, babies start to imitate speech sounds. By one year, babies start to use their first words. By 2 years old, they should be using around 50 words. They can usually put two words together. Once they are closer to 3 years old, you see 4-word sentences.
It is also normal for different sounds to come at different times like the “sp” sound. In fact, these sounds won’t be perfect until kindergarten or even after.
Getting an assessment
The first thing they did was ask me a variety of questions to get a sense of my child’s speech level. It was completely free (all of the early intervention we did was free).
Based on all of this, my 2 year old was behind the typical timeline. By the time we finished a few months later, she was ahead and had speech skills closer to a 3 year old. In fact, our babysitter, who is a preschool teacher, was very impressed with her speech skills.
Tip 1: Break down and build up
One of the most effective methods to helping your little use words is to talk in this style. It is called break down and build up. Here is an example:
Do you see the dog over there? See the dog? Dog? Yes, dog! You see the dog! You see the dog over there.
The point is that you take a sentence and break it down until you have one word. Once you get to the one word, you want to get them to point to the object or try to say it. Your goal is for them to acknowledge it before you start to rebuild the sentence. Be excited that they showed you that they knew it.
Whenever you say anything to baby, you should be using this method. Here are other examples:
Let’s get your shoes on before we leave. (Pick up shoe) Get your shoes on. Shoe. (Hand child shoe). Yes Shoe! Get your shoe on (put shoe on their foot). Let’s get your shoes on before we leave.
Tip 2: Narrate EVERYTHING
The more words your child hears, the better they will learn them. Therefore, you want to narrate everything you see and do. You can say your routine and everything that happens around you. Here is an example to show you what I mean:
Good morning! You are awake. Let’s get you out of the crib and open your window shades.
You are in your pajamas. Let’s get dressed. Let’s open your closet and get your clothes. Here is your clothing. Let’s see, what do you want to wear today? Here is your shirt. It is blue with flowers.
As you narrate everything, you can take sentences and break them down and build them up like I talked about in the first tip.
Another great part of the day to narrate is play time. Narrate everything the child does and points to and brings you.
Tip 3: Sing a LOT
Singing is one of the best ways to learn a foreign language. It is also a fantastic way to help your baby learn their first language. The first big sentences your baby will be able to speak are probably going to be verses from a favorite song.
We sing the same song every morning and we sing the same song before bed every night. We also try to sing during play. While most parents incorporate singing in a child’s day through going to sing or story times, it is also very helpful to just sit down with your baby and sing to them.
My 1 year old wanted itsy bitsy spider on repeat. She loved it. One of the reasons babies and toddlers like the same song again and again is that they are working on learning it.
Tip 4: Read a lot of books
When reading a lot of baby books, you will find that almost all kid books rhyme and there is a reason for that. Learning to rhyme is a fundamental precursor to reading. Reading also helps babies learn to talk by expanding their vocabulary and the sentence structures they are exposed to.
Additionally, books will increase the number of words your child hears. Just take any child book and count the number of words in that book that you do not use on a daily basis. Additionally, reading the same book over and over again is a way kids learn speech. Once they are older, they will surprise you by having the complete book memorized.
Short attention span:
One of the hardest parts of getting my little to read was that she couldn’t sit through a book. So I realized I needed to get books that included movement. Her absolute favorite book is Clap your Hands by Lorinda Bryan Cauley, which gets your kids moving around.
Tip 5: Talk in Conversation Style
I hadn’t realized until the speech therapist pointed it out that I talk to my child instead of talking with her.
It is important to talk to your baby as if they are going to respond. It teaches the natural flow of conversation and also gives them chances to try their speech. Once you say something (even if it isn’t a question), pause and give your baby a chance to say something back. Wait longer than you think you should.
Tip 6: Reward Any Effort
It is really important to reward any effort with encouragement. For example, if you ask your little one if they want a banana? Withhold the banana until they answer. However, once they answer, then be very excited no matter what the answer was. The answer could have been a hand sign or any noise at all.
As they learn that their speech is effective, they will try to use it more. Success builds confidence and that is true no matter what the age is.
Tip 7: Find talkative toddlers or preschoolers
One of the first two words my second child said were no and mine. The other ones were dog, hi and dada. I can tell you that she learned no and mine directly from her 4 year old sister. In fact, most of her phrases are directly from the 4 year old.
They recognize a peer and will want to imitate. This can work a lot in your favor with promoting speech. However, you might not love what they learn, like the word mine, but they are learning and that is what is important.
Helping Your Baby Talk
When my little one wasn’t talking, I didn’t really know how to help her. I didn’t know anything about baby language development besides that she was behind.
The worst part was watching her frustration that would turn into lots of screaming and hitting.
I am a big fan of early intervention speech therapy. It helped our baby turn a corner with speech and only in a few months.
Here I shared what I learned from going through speech therapy with my baby and hope that it will help you get your little one talking.
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