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Ask the Experts - Supporting Toddlers Language Acquisition with Lisa Welch

Updated: Aug 21, 2021

Hey everyone! I’m Lisa from @peachy_speech. I’ve been a speech and language therapist for 10 years now and have always had a role with under 4’s and early intervention. I thought I’d give you my 10 Top Tips for supporting your little ones language and communication skills at home. Lots of these things will seem obvious, things that you would do automatically rather than need teaching! That’s because as parents we are naturally wired to nurture early communication! We gaze at our little one, we "oooo" and "ahhhh", we smile and wave and chatter on to them, play peekaboo and sing lullabies.  When we start to worry about communication, a lot of these natural things stop. The worry gets in the way and feel we should be doing more. We search for activities and learning books to get our children talking. These structured things gets in the way a bit. It makes communication less playful and more testing – for us as adults as well as for our little ones! It can feel like hard work and so we worry more! A cycle of worry and structure begins. So, what I’d love to do in the post is remind you of all the wonderful and nurturing things you are already doing! A reminder of how the simple things are the most effective when it comes to early words and communication. If you spot anything in this list that you don’t do or think you can do more of, then fantastic! Add that to your repertoire! Remember that you are your little one’s best support; you are their world; and without even realising it, you will be doing an amazing job at teaching them all about communication!

10 Top Tips for Talking:

  1. Being face to face – Whenever you play or chat get right down on the floor to your child’s level. Sometimes this means we have lay right down on the floor. We want our head and face to match where our child’s is. This makes it really easy for our little ones to see us and notice how important faces are in communication.

  2. Use your face – Using facial expressions is a great way to teach children very early communication without words. Acting out surprised, sad, happy, excited, tired as you chat, play and read together will nurture their own expressions to develop.

  3. Use your hands – Make words more visual by using your hands to point, gesture, wave and show. Talking is a very abstract concept so when we use our hands it makes it more visual and easier to understand. (This doesn’t have to be official baby sign language, actions and gestures ate just as helpful!)

  4. Laugh – Being silly and having a giggle is a beautiful example of an early conversation! Yep that’s right, I’m professionally encouraging you all to be super silly! Having a giggle together plays out a simple conversation sequence –> I do something –> you respond –> I respond back –? you do something to keep things going. Games like peekaboo, tickle games, dropping things off a high chair, putting thing on our heads (!) pretending to sneeze, clapping at each other – these are all early none verbal conversations.

  5. Singing – When we sing nursery rhymes to our little ones we nurture their listening skills. Songs mirror the natural rhythm of conversation which help little ones tune into this. The rise and fall in tone and volume of nursery rhymes encourage focus. The repetition of language helps little ones pick out key words.

  6. PLAY – PLAY – PLAY – the most import thing of all is Play. You and your little one do not need to do set activities or work on communication. The reason children love to play and the reason they do it so instinctively is because it teaches them SO SO SO much of what they need to learn as they do it. In play, without even trying, children practice the following communication skills: listening, watching, waiting, responding, turn taking, building friendships, repairing friendships, following instructions, giving instructions, focusing on their own ideas, taking other peoples ideas, expressing emotions, responding to others emotions, using words, using imagination, using actions, using facial expressions, using volume, using tone, exploring vocabulary, creating a narrative, creating a sequence, copying a sequence……… and more and more. If you are playing – you are supporting language acquisition.

  7. Point and say – as you play and read and walk through life, simply point stuff out and name it! “look a dog”, “wow a big tree”, “whoa that car was fast!”. What this does is link objects and words together. These can then be easily stored by little ones ready for them to use themselves another day!

  8. Avoid questions – some questions are fine, but lots of “what’s this, what’s that” will make communication feel like a test! This often leads to a big STOP. Children wonder off or just refuse to answer because we are taking the fun out of things! (this is never our intention, we are just desperate to hear those words!!!) Try swapping your questions for the 'point and say' technique. Research shows that children are much more likely to echo words YOU say, than answer a direct question.

  9. Repeat and add – if your little one is naming things, try repeating their word but add an extra one too! So if they say “apple” you can reply “a red apple”. If they say “car” you can say “fast car”. If they say “cat” you can say “cat gone”. This gives your child praise for the word they’ve said and also shows them how they can add more. They are more likely to copy this demonstration than respond to a question that’s asks them to add EG: “what colour is your apple?”

  10. Pause – When children are learning new skills like language, they need TIME. As adults we are socially trained to avoid long gaps in conversations. Somewhere along the way we’ve been taught that silences are awkward and clunky in conversations. But for children, they NEED that pause. They NEED that silence so that they can process. Don’t be afraid to have 1-2 minutes of silence in your conversation or play – stay present while its quiet (no phone scrolling or dinner planning in your head!), keep face to face, watch and wait. You can even try counting in your head - it will feel like ages! This time gives a wonderful opportunity for your little one to think, to process and to lead the next bit of the conversation.

If you are doing lots of these things and you are still worried about your little ones talking, that doesn’t mean you have been doing it wrong. It might mean your little one learns language in a different way and this needs supporting by someone who has trained to look for those patterns and how to help them differently – A Speech and Language Therapist can help with that! So please don’t ever blame yourself if your little one finds talking tricky. You will be being super supportive without even realising! Maybe they need a little extra boost and that’s just what us speechies are here for! Thank you for having me Susie! Love Lisa x Lisa Welch Peachy Speech Specialist Speech and Language Therapist

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