A big part of my job is helping parents learn different strategies to promote their child's language development. Many people believe that if a child can understand what you are saying then why can’t they tell us what they are thinking?
There is a difference between a child's Expressive Language and their Receptive Language. Receptive Language refers to what a child understands in their environment. This means the basic understanding a person has of what is being said to them, read...basically the understanding of words, language, and their meanings. Expressive Language, on the other hand, is the umbrella term of how a person expresses their wants and needs to others in their environment.
When I work with children I get a good understanding of what skill, Receptive or Expressive Language, is a strength. Some ways I do this is by giving, depending on age, multiple-step directives and seeing how many they accomplish. Or I can use pictures or items and ask the child to point to the one I label. I would say that the majority of children I’ve worked with have very high Receptive Language skills which makes it confusing for families. “How can my child understand so much but not be able to tell me what they need?” is something I have heard many times.
It’s important to know that delays in language have nothing to do with a child's intelligence, as research has found that children with such delays typically have average to above-average intelligence. If this is a concern for you it’s important that you rule out medically related problems with your child's pediatrician or a specialist they have referred you to. This will help you build a foundation to learn what you and your doctor can do to help foster communication with your child.
Most children I’ve worked with don’t have medical reasons for their delay in communication. The great news is is that no matter what the delay there are ways to help your child learn to use that Expressive Language muscle in their everyday lives that are fun and will build confidence in them! Here are just a few guidelines and strategies to help start building your child's Expressive Language Vocabulary;
Everything is a learning opportunity!
No matter where you are, or what you are doing, there are endless language learning opportunities to be had! Start by labeling what is in your child's environment, especially when it’s something they are really interested in! The more we saturate children with language the easier it is for them to pick up.
Label what you're doing in your daily routine
Little eyes are always watching and observing what you are doing with intrigue and curiosity so use that to your advantage! Start labeling what you're doing, whether it’s changing their diaper or doing the dishes, and identify items that you're using and seeing around you.
Create a safe spot for them to play with their language
All behavior is communication, and babbling is no exception! Where, “Maa” may not mean “goat” to you, it can be the way your child identifies what a “goat” is to them. Encourage babbling and take time to notice is your child uses the same sounds/words consistently to identify something. This leads me to...
Instead of correcting, model!
This sometimes goes against what a parent naturally wants to do when their child is learning a new word. However, in my experience, when we model the correct word it still allows a child to play with their language with confidence. If a child is corrected constantly they tend to lose the self-confidence they might have been building and are less likely to even want to attempt to try to say a word. If we are modeling the correct words they will eventually get them, just be patient and give them a little extra time.
Follow their lead!
A lot of parents have told me that they have an idea of an activity to do with their child, but when the child isn’t interested they feel like they’ve failed. No way! Just follow their lead! They will show you what they are interested in, so start talking about that. Being able to adapt to different situations is showing that we care about what is important to them and can lead to a whole new avenue of learning for them and us! It’s great to have a plan, but be flexible.
Find fun ways to encourage language
Finding ways to encourage language can be really fun for both of you! Some fun ways are:
Point out colors and shapes in their environment. See if they can find other items that are the same shape or color.
Look at your child when they are talking and repeat back what they’ve said. Encourage reciprocal communication.
Use pictures and categorize (i.e. animals, food, shapes, colors).
Make a little book with favorite familiar people for your child to look through and label together.
Use songs or nursery rhymes with hand gestures.
Make up your own songs!
Use highly motivating activities, such as bubbles, to encourage your child to learn to ask for more and please.
Animals are always a favorite! You can use books or animal figures to talk about kinds of animals, where they live, and what sounds they make.
Read! Even if your child is a manic page flipper you can still get in some strong language points! Point out one or two items on a page as they flip through or ask them to find a certain animal or item in the book. Books that have a repetitive text (i.e. Brown Bear, Brown Bear) or rhyming (Dr. Seuss books) appeal to little ones as well as books about things they really like (i.e. vehicles, animals, colors)!
Want multiple activities that are themed? There are thousands of free, themed activities online for you to explore!
Do you have activities you use for your child that you’ve seen work? Why not connect with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn and let us know about it!