Each May, Better Hearing & Speech Month (BHSM) provides an opportunity to raise awareness about speech and communication disorders. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, approximately 8 to 9 percent of preschoolers struggle to use their voices. As parents, we are constantly vigilant regarding our children’s growth. Whether or not you may have a concern about your toddler’s early language development, the tips below may serve as a great set of guidelines for fostering communication skills.
- A Communication-Rich Environment
It is often as simple as this: talking to and around your child can help them have a larger vocabulary and better grammar. The rationale is intuitive - the more language your child is exposed to, the more he or she will learn it and develop his or her own natural abilities. So even if you’re talking about concepts that your child won’t necessarily understand – like why you’re getting gas or what makes the sky blue – he or she will pick things up! How is that? Neural activity in your child’s brain feeds on itself, which means that new connections made in the brain tend to foster further connections. Make sure to tell all caregivers to do this. That includes babysitters, grandparents and…fathers. Not to pick on my fellow dads, but sometimes men need a reminder to do this – though it’s not necessarily their fault. A famous study found that women tend to have a greater quantity of a protein called Foxp2, which stimulates language. So frequent communication, in general, may come more easily to moms . Either way, whoever spends time with your toddler needs to create a stimulating environment to encourage and nurture language development.
- Child-Directed Speech
While I was in graduate school at Columbia University, I became fascinated by and began to study a concept called child-directed speech . Child-directed speech, commonly known as baby talk, is a way of speaking that is characterized by slowed-down speech with lots of ups and downs in terms of pitch and exaggerated facial expressions. With this technique, parents change their vocabulary to praise their toddlers for their efforts and to let them know that their way of speaking is not only acceptable but encouraged. For example, a parent using child-directed speech might use “baba” for bottle or “ew” for garbage can. Babies and toddlers tend to prefer this method, and numerous studies have also supported the use of baby talk in promoting early language growth, along with bonding between baby and his or her parents. In short, be a frequent and proud user of baby talk!
- Sing, Rhyme, Mimic -- Just PlayIn the same vein as infant-directed speech, make sure you are making light of language, so to speak. This means: sing a lot (even as you’re doing daily mundane chores), rhyme words and show your child the joy of speech and all that you can do with this crazy communication mechanism. And very crucially, when your baby or toddler starts to babble, make “raspberries” with her lips or to make new facial expressions, throw it right back at her. Mimic what she’s doing to give her real feedback and encouragement. This will motivate her to continue to develop these behaviors, which are the precursors to meaningful speech. So, when in doubt, make yourself into something of a slapstick comedian for your baby, and you’ll be shocked at what you could get back from her!
- Get Help
Of course, if you feel your child needs some extra help and you have concerns about your child’s speech or language abilities, rest assured. There are wonderful trained and experienced clinical speech-language pathologists at the ready here in NYC, and around the country. Simply search via your zip code and you can directly book at the first discounted session with the ideal speech therapist for your family. It may be the best investment you could make for your child’s overall growth.
Author: Gordy Rogers, M.S. CCC-SLP, co-founder of Speech Buddies