I speak to many parents of younger child who are worried about when those ‘first words’ will come. We are often asked when a child should start to talk and how many words they should have by what age. But it is really important to remember that communicating is much more than words. So before there are words, here are other signs you should be looking for and ways to help.
Today I am going to talk about listening. Now I know this sounds a bit silly if you are worried about your child not talking, but we need to show them how to listen and attend to language, before they can use it.
My child’s not talking, what am I listening for?
We have spoken before about giving children the time to respond. Being quiet and listening are very important. Just because your child might not have words yet, doesn’t mean they aren’t communicating with you. Non-verbal communication is just as valid and important. Here are some ways your child might be communicating with you, without using any words!
– The toys a child chooses, show you what they are interested in. By working with these toys, you are more likely to engage your child. It can also show you how they are feeling.
– Reaching for something. This is the first step towards asking for something.
– Turning away from something. This is just as telling as reaching for something and shows they don’t want it.
– Smiling. This shows you are engaged and sharing the moment.
– Looking at you or looking at a toy and then looking at you. These are both telling you what the child wants.
– Gestures. When I was working with one young man, before he started using words, we were working on encouraging him to say ‘more’. He loved bubbles, so we were using them; I would put the wand back in the pot and wait, looking expectantly. Before he started to say more, he would take my hand and put it on the lid of the bubbles. This was his way of communicating more.
– Noises, squealing and laughing. These noises can show you pleasure or disdain. They are very effective forms of communication!
– Shouting or having a meltdown. Every behaviour is a communication. It may not be a behaviour we like, but your child is very clearly showing that they aren’t happy about something. If you break down the behaviour, you will find the message.
But why is that important? They’re still not talking.
We can get very caught up waiting for the words. Words only make up a small percentage of communication. Your child is likely to be communicating a number of things to you, the best way they can at the moment. So in order to help your child talk, first we must be listening to the whole message.
How can I show my child I’m listening?
– Get down to their level and yes, I mean sitting on the floor! Now this might sound too simple or a bit silly, but it is highly effective. To fully engage with a child and show them what to do, they need to be able to see your face easily, without having to look up at you. It is also easier to get involved with their play.
– Being face to face with a child also means it’s easier to make eye contact. Now we don’t want to stare, and often younger children will only make eye contact briefly, but by being at their level, you are enabling the connection to be made.
– Use short sentences, or just words to describe what you are doing. You can read more about this here. Don’t ask too many questions. Communication isn’t about being constantly asked to name things. Its about commenting and asking and sharing.
– Enjoy simple turn taking. This maybe with sounds or symbolic noises, such as animal noises or car/ train noises. If your child attempts to ‘brrmmm’ when playing with their favourite car, copy the noise. You are showing that we take turns in a conversation
So, have a try. It may feel like you are just looking and listening, but you are showing your child that you are engaged and demonstrating all aspects of communication.