Bub’s the word

How to teach your child es­sen­tial lan­guage skills

Mother & Baby (Australia) - - Contents -

As a mum, hav­ing a good old chat is what keeps us feel­ing sane. And there are lots of ben­e­fits for your young­ster from chat­ting, too. Early lan­guage skills act as a great foun­da­tion for the de­vel­op­ment of other skills later on. Re­search has shown that chat­ter in the for­ma­tive years is the most im­por­tant fac­tor for in­flu­enc­ing lit­er­ary lev­els at sec­ondary school. And, hav­ing a lit­tle one who’s happy to chat about this, that and ev­ery­thing is great fun, too – and will help your bond stay strong as she grows and be­comes more in­de­pen­dent.

Like ev­ery other es­sen­tial life skill, there’s a huge spec­trum when it comes to who starts chat­ting when, and how quickly their lan­guage de­vel­ops. But, whether your baby or tod­dler is a nat­u­ral chatterbox or has a lit­tle less to say than most, all chil­dren can be en­cour­aged to com­mu­ni­cate more. And what­ever your child’s age, your start­ing point is mak­ing time to chat, says speech and lan­guage ther­a­pist Kate Free­man.

“Our lives are busy as par­ents, so it’s im­por­tant to fo­cus on face-to-face time talk­ing with your child.” Ask your­self, do you re­ally lis­ten to your child when she chats to you, even if she’s just bab­bling? Do you stop what you’re do­ing, make eye con­tact, and take the time to re­spond? It’s easy to treat your child’s chat­ter as back­ground noise while you fo­cus on do­ing some­thing else, and this is fine some of the time. But she needs to know that you value her com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills, as much as she val­ues yours.

And you can’t start do­ing this too soon, be­cause your child’s chatterbox skills be­gin to de­velop early on in her life. Well be­fore she learns the lan­guage of words and sen­tences, she will start to make sounds. “Your baby will pay at­ten­tion to the sounds around her and, even­tu­ally, start to not only un­der­stand them but be­gin to link them with ac­tions, ob­jects and con­cepts,” says Kate. “So, for ex­am­ple, she might re­alise that the ping of the mi­crowave means that din­ner is ready, or that the dog bark­ing means that Dad has ar­rived home.

At the same time, she will start to use her mouth and tongue in a co­or­di­nated way, grad­u­ally gain­ing more con­trol. Even­tu­ally, she reaches the mo­ment when she re­alises the sounds that she’s mak­ing get a re­sponse, and this is how she starts to un­der­stand the art of con­ver­sa­tion. And it’s then that you’ll start to hear mag­i­cal sounds like ‘Mama’.”

Ques­tion­ing less, and com­ment­ing more, will mean you en­cour­age con­ver­sa­tion.

Time to chat

Sim­ply get­ting down on the floor and play­ing with your child en­cour­ages her to speak more. Fo­cus on her favourite toys and let her take the lead. “Take the time to no­tice what she’s look­ing at, and talk about that,” says Kate. “So if it’s a teddy bear, for ex­am­ple, you could chat with her about what he looks like, or whether you think Ted might be tired or thirsty. Ques­tion­ing less, and com­ment­ing more, will mean you avoid quizzing your child and en­cour­age con­ver­sa­tion. So you might say, ‘Let’s put Teddy to bed’ rather than ask­ing, ‘What’s Teddy go­ing to do now?’. A good rule of thumb is to aim for four com­ments to ev­ery ques­tion.” And dur­ing your lit­tle in-play chats, let your lan­guage be guided by the level of hers. “Talk to your child in short sen­tences, one word longer than her sen­tences are,” says Kate. “If she’s not say­ing any­thing yet, use key sin­gle words such as ‘cat’ or ‘block’. When she’s used to this, ex­pand it to ‘sleepy cat’ and ‘red block’ and so on. This way, you give her some­thing to aim for with­out over­whelm­ing her.”

Cre­ate lots of op­por­tu­ni­ties for chat in the rest of your day, too. Struc­tur­ing your rou­tine to in­volve your child cre­ates a cul­ture of con­ver­sa­tion. “Your tod­dler could help put away the shop­ping,” Kate sug­gests. It might take longer, but it’s a sim­ple way of spend­ing time to­gether, as is eat­ing with her or even just sit­ting with her when she eats. Build­ing on a feel­ing of to­geth­er­ness from an early age will en­cour­age her to com­mu­ni­cate.

Also, make it easy for her to fo­cus on learn­ing to lis­ten to spe­cific sounds by re­duc­ing the amount of noises your child lis­tens to at any one time. This can be as easy as not hav­ing the TV on all the time.

Get phys­i­cal

Mak­ing it as sim­ple as pos­si­ble phys­i­cally for your child to talk can also make a dif­fer­ence when it comes to her speech. If she has fre­quent ear in­fec­tions or strug­gles to pay at­ten­tion when you talk to her, ask your GP or health pro­fes­sional if her hear­ing is OK.

Mo­ti­vate her

She’s learn­ing new words and de­vel­op­ing her con­ver­sa­tional skills, but how can you keep your child mo­ti­vated to talk? It’s all about mak­ing things ex­cit­ing and weav­ing in a lit­tle bit of magic. You sim­ply need to take your lead from your young­ster and build a con­ver­sa­tion around the things she likes. Cre­ate a bit of the­atre by us­ing voices for her toys, or singing. “You might feel silly at first, but try not to and en­joy it,” says Kate. “In my ex­pe­ri­ence, there’s noth­ing a two-year-old likes more than a sock pup­pet pre­tend­ing to eat her.”

At six months old, what re­ally makes a dif­fer­ence is lots of face-to-face time, so play games, in­clud­ing peek­a­boo, and sing songs with ges­tures, such as Row,

Row, Row Your Boat, that have you sit­ting face-to-face with your lit­tle one. Look at board books with an­i­mals in them, then make the sounds the crea­tures make so you’re both look­ing at each other’s faces.

Be­tween the ages of one and two, the im­por­tant thing is to reg­u­larly play with her at her level, and do lots of ac­tiv­i­ties to­gether. This will bring op­por­tu­ni­ties to chat, and use lots of new and dif­fer­ent

vo­cab­u­lary, us­ing very sim­ple, short sen­tences such as: ‘Teddy fell down’. From two up­wards, your lit­tle one will prob­a­bly show a lot more in­ter­est in books, so if she wants some­thing read again, and again, go with it. Ev­ery time you re­peat a word, it just helps her mas­ter her lan­guage skills. And just the sim­ple act of en­cour­ag­ing her to say ‘hello’ to other peo­ple you meet dur­ing your day en­cour­ages in­ter­ac­tion.

Not all chil­dren will grow up to be chat­ter­boxes, but lov­ing a chat is a great life skill that’s well within your lit­tle one’s grasp. “All chil­dren will make some progress, es­pe­cially if you do all you can to help them com­mu­ni­cate,” says Kate. “Time spent help­ing her talk is not just time well spent, it’s in­valu­able.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.