The excitement that you feel when your child says his/her first word is unparalleled (even if that first word is ‘Dada’😊). Most babies usually say their first words anytime between 12 to 14 months of age, after which they will slowly and gradually develop their language skills. While some children start talking a little earlier, others may take longer. Don’t rush the process. Give your child time, support, love and lots of encouragement.
Here are some simple ways in which you can support and encourage their language development. Until your child turns 4-5 years of age, you can apply these basic guidelines in different ways to help encourage their speech.
1. Imitate their speech
This is something that can be done right from the start. Even if your child is simply babbling, repeat what they’re saying back to them. In other words, mimic their speech and even their gestures. This back and forth helps your child understand the basics of communication and how it works.
2. Don’t ignore the importance of working on their non-verbal communication
While your child will begin to talk once they reach that developmental stage, it’s important to understand that communication is something that they learn right from the beginning. So, don’t underestimate the importance of working on their non-verbal communication even when they haven’t begun talking yet. This will form the basis for their eventual language development. Even as a tiny baby, your child will learn to use certain body language, signs and gestures to communicate their feelings to you. Acknowledging and responding to these non-verbal cues is an important way to help your child understand the reciprocal nature of communication.
3. Interpret their gestures
Help them make connections and learn by observing them and interpreting their gestures and signs. So, if your child is pointing at the bottle of milk, you can say ‘yes, this is your milk bottle. Would you like some milk?’
4. Build on what they’re saying
If your child has started to use simple words to communicate, add on to what they’re saying. For example, if your child says ‘Mumma’, you can respond to them by saying ‘Yes, Mumma is right here. Mumma loves you’. Or if he or she says ‘ball’, you can add on by saying ‘This is baby’s ball. Let’s play with the ball’. Speak clearly and in proper sentences as you do this.
5. Narrate to them what you’re doing as you go about your day
Talk to them about what you’re doing, even if it’s simply your daily routine. Repetition is a great learning tool. Talk to them while you’re doing chores and tell them what you’re doing using simple words. Not just that, talk to your child about what they’re doing as well. For example, at bedtime, you can say ‘It’s time for (your baby’s name) to go to sleep. Mumma is going to read you a book. Now I’m going to turn off the lights’, and so on. Provide a live commentary of the day 😊.
6. Accompany words with appropriate gestures
If you’re asking them whether they’re hungry, rub your tummy while you do so. When you’re talking to them about different objects, point to the object as you talk. For example, you can point to a dog and say ‘this is a dog’, or point to the sky and say the word ‘sky’.
7. Always respond to their attempts to communicate with you, whether it is verbal or non-verbal
Responding when your child communicates with you is extremely important. Similarly, when you converse with your child, pause whenever necessary and give them a chance to respond to what you’re saying as well. Communication is always a two-way street.
8. Make sure they don’t have any hearing issues
Proper hearing is important for your child to be able to develop speech at a certain stage. Monitor this over time and keep a check for ear infections. An untreated ear infection may lead to a bit of a delay in your child’s speech development. If your child seems to have, or has had an ear infection, ensure that it is properly treated.
9. Read to them as much as you can
Read age-appropriate books to your child right from the beginning. Make this a daily routine, whether you do it during the daytime or at night before you put them to bed. Point out the pictures and words as you read. Inculcating a love for books is one of the best gifts you can give your child.
10. Use songs and music to build language skills
Singing songs and nursery rhymes is a great way to teach your children new words and concepts. Learning should always be fun and music is a great way to teach concepts in a fun way.
11. Praise them and make it fun
Praise and encourage them as much as possible. If they say something wrong, don’t make fun of them or criticize them. Instead, simply repeat the correct word or sentence back to them. So, if they point to a ball and say ‘this all’, you can say, ‘Yes, that’s right. This is a ball’. Make sure you validate all their attempts to communicate.
12. Limit screen time as much as you can
While this isn’t always easy, it is important to limit the use of screens (TV, tablets, etc) as your child grows. Having the TV on often is not just a huge distraction for them but it doesn’t always serve an educational purpose either. Keep TV time to a minimum and filter the kind of content that you let your child watch. In fact, studies have shown that too much screen time can lead to a delay in speech formation.