Language is key when it comes to understanding and connecting with your child. From my experience, both professional and non-professional, I have found so many parents looking for guidance on the topic of speech.

“She only points or cries to tell me what she wants.”

“My child is two and only says a few words, but his two-year-old friend down the street talks in full sentences!”

The bottom line is always, “How can I help my child to start talking?”

I can imagine the frustration coming from both ends when a child is unable to effectively communicate his wants and needs.

While it is important to remember that every child develops speech differently, I also recognize it is becoming a growing area of concern to parents, teachers and even pediatricians. With autism on the rise, speech screenings are becoming more commonplace in the classroom and in the pediatrician’s office.

As an occupational therapist, this isn’t the typical topic for me so I’d like to give credit where credit is due when broaching the subject of speech. I am beyond grateful to all of the Speech-Language Pathologists that I have had the pleasure of working alongside in my career who have taught me SO much. I truly understand that they are the experts when it comes to speech and language development in young children. I still have so much to learn in this area.

With that said, I do feel that over time I have developed a handful of easy and practical tips for encouraging language in young children. These are techniques that I have used in my practice and with my own children that I have found to be effective.

So if you’re a parent who desires to communicate more easily with your child, this is for you! If you dedicate yourself to involving these language tools in your day-to-day routine, I guarantee you will begin to see some positive changes in your child’s speech.

These tips can be used with children of all ages. They can be used with typically developing children or children with disabilities.

Foundational Skills

Before language and communication can emerge, there are a few building blocks that need to be established. Those building blocks are eye contact and joint attention.

Eye Contact

Eye contact is one of the first things we try to establish in therapy with children who have difficulty with language and social skills. Not only does eye contact acknowledge the other person, it lets them know you are ready to communicate with them. Eye contact is essentially a precursor to communication.

Here are some easy ways to encourage eye contact:

  • Place yourself directly in front of them while still maintaining a comfortable personal space for them, then say “Hi!”
  • With other children who need a more concrete directive, “look at my eyes” is effective.
  • Play “Where’s your nose? Where’s mommy’s nose?” and continue finding all the other parts of the face.
  • Play “funny faces” in the mirror. Your child can establish eye contact with you in the mirror.
  • For older children who have difficulty with eye-contact, you can say “What color are my eyes?”

Joint Attention

Joint attention is another very important precursor for language to begin developing. Joint attention is the ability of a child to look or pay attention to the same thing as you are (joining your attention together on the same item). It is the ability for the child to respond appropriately when you point at a picture and say “Look!”

Here are some basic ways to encourage joint attention:

  • Pointing to pictures in a book (i.e. “Look! A car!”)
  • While holding your child, carry them in the garden and point to different objects seen (i.e. Look! flowers!)

Have fun watching your child’s interest spark and little mind take off! You’ll have a little chatterbox on your hands in no time.

Originally story by Ashley Thurn for