Parents as Partners in Language Enrichment
Long before they are able to verbally communicate, babies are soaking up language across their daily routines. Everything they hear and are exposed to will help them to become effective communicators as they enter toddlerhood. There are a variety of strategies for encouraging communication in young toddlers that can be embedded into daily routines. The majority of parents are likely implementing many of these strategies without even knowing the positive impact it will have on their child’s overall communication skills, although it is important for parents to understand why these strategies have such an impact on their child’s development.
Early Language Skills
Before discussing strategies to increase language skills, it is important to identify some of the skills needed to acquire language. These skills include joint attention, turn-taking and imitation. Each of these skills isvery important and impacts overall language development, along with cognitive and social skills. Joint attention is sharing interest and attention on an item, which provides a teaching opportunity through focusing on the same object.
Joint attention can be demonstrated through looking at the same object, following a point or an eye gaze. Through joint attention, babies and toddlers establish the intent to communicate as they share their attention on an object with another individual. Joint attention will also help a child develop word associations. For example if a child is looking at a ball, a parent can label and comment on the ball, which turns this simple moment into a teaching opportunity.
Other important foundational skills for communication include turn-taking and imitation. These skills should be encouraged in infancy and continue through toddlerhood. Both skills encourage social engagement and communicative attempt, which establishes the foundation for communication. Infants provide adults with a variety of opportunities to practice turn-taking and imitation during simple interactions and play activities.
Imitation acknowledges what a child is saying/doing and shows the child that their parent is interested in their action or play. The more parents show their child that they are interested in what he/she is doing, the more it will encourage the child to communicatenonverbally and/or verbally. If a child is not yet developmentally ready to imitate, parents can help teach and encourage this skill by following the child’s lead during play and imitating simple gestures, play schemes, sounds or words of the child. Beginning with actions is typically the easiest, transitioning to simple sounds and words. The goal is for the child to imitate and any effort should be given praise, even if the child’s articulation is imprecise.
When targeting imitation, parents should keep models simple. If parents begin modeling gestures, play schemes and/or verbal productions that are significantly more complex, then the child may not even attempt to imitate. When targeting turn-taking and imitation during play, it is also important that parents give their child ample time to process and respond. Sometimes parents can be so eager to engage with their child that they forget to pause and wait for the child to respond.
Imitation can also be a valuable tool for verbal toddlers, as parents can imitate their toddler’s productions and expand on their utterancesto model more complex language skills and to help increase their expressive language skills. For example, if your toddler requests “more book”, a parent can imitate and expand their request to include a verb- “read more book” or if the child says “car go”, a parent can introduce a modifier by modeling “blue car go.”
Another simple strategy to foster language development is talking about everything you and your child encounter across the day. Narrate your daily routines- what you are doing, what your child is doing, what you see, what you hear, etc. For a while, it may seem that you are only talking to yourself but this modeling of language is crucial to your child’s development. This bombardment of language across their daily routines will significantly increase their receptive language skills as they begin to make word associations. It will also increase their expressive language skills through repeated exposure of familiar words and through the introduction of less familiar words.
An additional strategy is to provide your toddler with choices (paired with visuals) across their daily routines. Instead of asking the child if he or she would like a snack of goldfish, ask the child “would you like goldfish or yogurt?”. This will encourage the child to verbally imitate a preference instead of simply responding “yes” or “no” (or even just getting by with a head nod).
Language Norms for Toddlers
As we discuss strategies to increase communication skills in toddlers, it is important to be familiar with receptive (understanding) and expressive (production) language norms in the toddler population. A typically developing two-year-old will demonstrate understanding of single words for items that are not present and should follow a variety of 1-2 step verbal directions related to his or her daily routine. Although there is variability with each child, the majority of two-year-olds have an expressive vocabulary of 50-200 words and should be combining words to produce a variety of 2-word combinations, including agent + verb, agent + object, action + object, entity + location, and attribute + entity. They should also identify body parts and basic nouns when prompted.
By three years of age, a child produces approximately 250-400 words and demonstrates understanding of basic spatial terms including “in, on, under, behind.” A three-year-old responds to simple “what, who, when, where, why” questions and asks simple “what?” questions. They are combining words to produce 3-4 word productions and using basic pronouns to refer to themselves and others. The majority of three-year-olds can identify some familiar items by function.
The majority of four-year-olds demonstrate understanding of and produce a variety of “when, why” and “how” questions and demonstrate understanding of basic concepts including big/little, rough/smooth, hot/cold, hard soft. They also utilize a variety of modifiers, including colors, shapes and size, to describe objects. A four-year-old can demonstrate basic narration skills by telling you events of the day and describe the function of familiar items. Their speech should also be easily understood by familiar and less familiar adults.
Does Your Toddler Need Speech Therapy?
If you feel that your child is behind with their receptive and/or expressive communication language skills or is becoming frustrated when attempting to communicate, please reach out to our clinic to schedule an assessment with a speech-language pathologist. At Speech &Occupational Therapy of North Texas, a speech-language pathologist can assess your child and if needed, develop a specific treatment plan to help your child be an effective and enthusiastic communicator.
Speech & Occupational Therapy of North Texas is a network provider for many major insurance plans. For speech therapy services in Frisco, Plano, or McKinney, contact us a 972-424-0148