Respond to your child’s vocalizations, speech and gestures.
Responding to your baby’s attempts at communication, beginning at birth, shows them just how important communication is and encourages them to communicate even more. Observe their cues and try to meet their needs as best you can. Look at them when they vocalize and talk to them affirming their communication efforts.
Talk, talk and talk some more- and when you’re done talking, SING!
Your baby loves to hear you talk. Well before your little one can talk, tell them about what you’re doing throughout the day. Talk about how you feel, ask them questions, and then pause to allow them time to take it in and perhaps smile or coo back.
When you’re doing this get to your child’s level and make eye contact. Try phrases like “Mommy is washing your little toes.” “You look very happy to be taking a bath,” or “Now I am putting on your shirt.” You can also use the same words during daily routines to cue what is happening next and offer simple phrases for them to practice when they’re older like: “all done, help, up, clean, dirty, wash, sleep, stop”. As your child gets older and they are attempting to vocalize and say words, model (not correct) the pronunciation by repeating what they say and expanding on their simple sentences. “You want the cup, I’ll get the cup for you.”
Don’t be afraid to try out your singing voice. Singing to your baby will provide more vocabulary as well as teaches your little one the beauty of rhythm and the lyrical sounds of language.
Engage in turn-taking activities.
Parents can begin modeling turn-taking at an early age. While talking to your child, pause and allow your child to vocalize, or at least give them the time and space to do so. When your child makes cooing sounds, uses a gesture or hands you an object, use that as an opportunity to engage in turn-taking. “Oh yeah? What happened next?” or “Thank you for the socks!” It might feel a bit funny talking aloud and having these conversations but you are modeling so many skills in this communicative exchange.
Model joint attention and eye contact skills.
These skills are very important prelinguistic skills that little ones need for various aspects of speech and language development. Establishing eye contact during play or daily routines when playing with the toys your baby is playing with or objects they show interest in will further their development. Bring a toy or book to them when playing and exploring and manipulate the object in various ways. While doing this, describe what you are doing, what you see, and what the object does. For example, take a soft ball and squeeze it, roll it, put it under a blanket so your child is looking for it. Once you find it, together or independently, talk about where it was and what happened.
Reading to your baby every day is a critical practice for language development. Just as important, is the interaction between you and your little one while you read. Consider naming objects, describing characters, scenes, and characteristics. Define unfamiliar situations, point out similarities and differences, predict, make judgments, ask open-ended questions, and relate to real life. All of these conversations will help further their understanding of the world around them.
Create opportunities for your child to have to use words.
Asking your little one to make choices instead of using yes or no questions is a great way to encourage them to use their vocabulary. “Would you like milk or water?” Wait for an answer and offer encouragement for their answer. “Thank you for telling mommy what you want, I will get you a drink of water”.
When you observe your little one facing challenges, give them time to communicate how to fix it. If they cannot, that’s ok, model what they could say to solve the problem. “Hmmm. The peg doesn’t fit that way. I wonder what we can do about that?”
Support healthy oral motor and feeding skills.
The first two years of life are a critical learning period for mouth skills. During this time, your little one will develop a majority of the eating and drinking skills used throughout their life. These same skills acquired for eating and drinking are used for speaking. You can begin supporting your baby’s mouth skills by providing them with age-appropriate teething toys and safe objects to mouth. Choose a safe toy that your baby can hold and explore in their mouth without poking themselves or causing them to open their jaw too wide.
Also consider introducing an open cup for drinking, perhaps held by you too, around 4-6 months and a thicker puree or food with small soft lumps at 5-6 months (when able to sit unassisted).
More examples of activities you can do to help with oral motor development are
- blowing bubbles with your child
- practice blowing kisses
- filling your cheeks with air
- blowing into horns and whistles
Be patient and swap positive statements for negative talk.
Encourage all attempts for your baby to communicate and validate those attempts. For example try to avoid saying phrases like, “That’s not what a horse says,” or “That apple isn’t blue”. Flip the negative to positive by repeating what may be true, “You see a red apple! Fun!” Being mindful that every child has their own unique rate and pattern of development and trying not to compare your child to others will help you to feel patient about this process. Whenever you have a concern or you find that your child is not meeting their developmental milestones, ask your pediatrician.
Use screens and television sparingly.
Your baby’s best teacher is you. Nothing can replace the interactions your baby will have with you – no matter how big or small. Screens, while enticing, are not offering your child the opportunity to look at your face and study the way in which a human being makes sounds and words. Research shows that exposure to communication coming directly from a parent or caregiver is the key to vocabulary development.