Is your toddler saying minimal to no words? Do you suspect your toddler has a speech delay? Do you want to find simple ways at home to encourage them to start communicating with you? Look no further. This post will provide you with manageable ways to help your child talk and communicate with you while easily incorporating these techniques into your daily routine.
The following are usually my go-to strategies when I have a child in my caseload who has difficulties communicating and conveying their wants and needs. These strategies are also what I HIGHLY recommend for parents to do outside of the sessions. When these techniques are implemented on a daily basis, I usually see the child demonstrating these techniques independently within a few weeks of treating the child with a speech and/or delay. It may take more time with some children, so be patient and consistent.
This post is all about ways to support speech delay at home.
1. PLAY, PLAY, and even more PLAY!
I cannot stress this enough. In order for your toddler to learn any new skill, they do best through play. It is one of my favorite ways for children to learn about many things, especially language skills. Through play, they can interact with others, problem-solve, and utilize language.
As a speech-language pathologist, I use play during therapy to establish a relationship with the child so that learning can begin. Play can be a motivator for your toddler to explore as well as build language. Examples include spatial terms (“Put the pig behind the farm”), answering wh-questions (“What color is the pig?”), using verbs (“open door”) and imitating songs or sounds (“pig goes oink, oink”).
2. Gestures and sign language
Many of the toddlers in my caseload start off with little to no words when they first start to speak. Often when children have trouble relaying feelings or requests, they get frustrated, occasionally leading them to a complete meltdown. Those signs of frustration are present because the child does not know other ways to convey their needs. What you can do to relieve frustrations is to utilize gestures and/or sign language. Gestures could include pointing to the object they desire, shaking their head ‘no,’ or nodding their head for ‘yes.’
Sign language is like speech but using your hand movements to communicate. Functional words or language (i.e., vocabulary that people use on a daily basis or activities) would be best to start with. Examples include words such as “more,” “open,” “eat,” “help,” “sleep.” (Click on the underlined words to see the sign language for each of those words). Your toddler may not speak the words out loud, but signing can be their way to communicate with you. This will not only alleviate any frustrations, but you will feel a great sense of relief in starting to understand what your child needs.
3. Understanding language
Do you know if your child understands what you are saying? Are they able to follow simple tasks for their age? Such as “Go get the ball” or “Let’s go outside.” Do you often have to repeat your questions? Or find your child has difficulties attending to a task or activity? If so, then your child may need more support in their receptive language skills.
Deficits in receptive language can lead to challenges in following instructions at home or school, as well as behavioral issues. The best way to improve their receptive language is to provide simple instructions one at a time. This will allow the toddler to process and provide you with more insight on whether or not you need to add more support. Try using gestures (e.g., pointing), visual cues (e.g., pictures), and showing what you want them to do. Then, let them repeat it or imitate it and maintain eye contact with the child.
4. Wait and listen
Sometimes children with a speech delay may need more time to process the information given to them. I see parents or caregivers repeating themselves repeatedly without giving enough time for the child to even respond, and even if they do, it’s very short for that particular child.
That is why it is essential to wait a few seconds after you ask them to do something. For example, I usually wait 5-10 seconds before I repeat what I have said. It would be enough for your child to process and perform what you have told them to do during those seconds. This applies whether you want the child to repeat after you verbally or imitate an action with their body (i.e., clapping, jumping).
Also, remember to use 1-2 functional words when communicating with your child. You want to be concise and straightforward with your commands and communication so your child will be able to process them quickly. For example, instead of saying “please open the blue car’s door,” point and say “open door.” Keep it short and straight to the point.
Children LOVE music!!! They love singing different songs and dancing to them. What a great way to use that and build language!!! My go-to songs are “Wheels on the bus” and “Old MacDonald.” “Wheels on the Bus” has been a hit so far, ESPECIALLY if you do the movements that go along with it. It’s fun and silly. I consistently stick with around 3-4 movements until the child starts to imitate and predicts what will come next.
What we are looking for here is the willingness to cooperate and engage with you. When they engage and have fun, they want to do more and follow you in other activities. If your child is not doing the movements that go with the song, you can help them by taking their hands and doing the actions for them.
6. Imitate your toddler
When a child has a speech delay, they may have trouble even imitating what you are saying or doing. Children with autism do experience difficulties imitating simple sounds and actions. If your child is not imitating or interested in what you are doing, you might want to enter their world and imitate them.
When you start imitating their sounds and actions, they begin to realize that you are mimicking them, and then they begin to manipulate sounds to see if you will continue to do the same thing. To them, it’s like a game, and then they might want to do the same thing with you.
7. Consistency is KEY!
The most important of it all is to be CONSISTENT! These strategies should be implemented on a daily basis. When your toddler begins to see this everywhere they go, they will start to pick up the strategies and apply what you have taught. Every child’s pace is different, so just be patient with your toddler, and they will get there.
If you continue to be concerned with your child’s speech and language development, I would highly recommend scheduling a speech evaluation with a speech and language pathologist to see if they need early intervention. This is the most critical time for your toddler to get intervention due to their rapid brain growth.