We started a series of posts a while ago on encouraging your toddler to talk. You can read the first three posts here, here and here. I have talked about usual language development, what to expect at your speech therapy assessment and some strategies to help your child, such as reducing the number of questions you ask, commenting instead and adding something to what your child says. Today, I’m going to talk about activities you can use to encourage your child’s language skills.
What activities should I do while I’m commenting on my child’s play?
It doesn’t really matter what toys you play with or what games you play. The most important thing is that it’s something your child enjoys. It’s good to have specific sessions (just 5-10 minutes at a time is fine) where you sit down and try to focus on language with your child, but try not to have a particular plan for what you’ll do. If you plan something, it’s highly likely that your toddler won’t want to do it and you’ll end up having a battle of wills! This is the nature of 2-year olds! Instead, let your child take the lead. Let him/her choose the toy s/he wants to play with and join in with them.
This can be harder to do than it sounds, especially if, by nature, you like to be in control of things. After all, maybe your child just wants to push the same car back and forth for 10 minutes, while you can see a fire engine with flashing lights or a pot of bubbles that look much more fun! However, we all learn things best when we are interested, and so you need to do whatever you can to make sure that your child is on board with the activity you are doing. If it’s something they have chosen, they are more likely to want to learn the language that goes with that activity.
If you want ideas of how to encourage language skills with some basic toys, we have a series of posts that may help. Try to adapt some of the ideas to your child’s favourite toys. Find out how to use bubbles, a ball, a car/train, a teddy/doll, a jigsaw puzzle, a box and books by clicking these links.
My child doesn’t really want me to join in – how can I get involved?
Take it slowly. Start by just watching and really taking notice of what your child is doing. Elizabeth wrote a helpful post about watching and listening to a child who doesn’t use words here. Then, get down on the floor with your child and make eye contact if you can. Try to put all distractions aside just for a few minutes and just really focus on your child. Comment on what they are doing using just a few words – I talked about how to do that here. You may well find that your child naturally gives you a turn as well, when you have been doing this for a while.
If not, don’t worry – just keep commenting and following your child’s lead. I often find I’m getting up and moving a lot when I do this, as I want to be in front of the child if I can. Therefore, if they turn their back on me, I move! Try using some symbolic noises as well to add interest to the activity and make yourself a part of it. By this I mean animal noises, car noises, any kind of silly sound related to what the child is doing.
How will I know if my child is making progress? What should I look for?
This sounds obvious – surely you’ll notice when your child starts talking?! Because you are with your child every day, sometimes the progress can seem very slow and it can be hard to remember and take note of the little steps along the way. It can be handy to keep a little notebook about your child’s language skills where you can take notes of any progress. You don’t need to write a novel, just put a date and a couple of words about whatever you noticed. Remember to look at all aspects of communication, not just speech. If your child looks to get your attention and they don’t usually, write it down. If they make a new sound, make a note of it. You may be surprised by the progress that is happening.
If not, you have a great set of notes to highlight your concerns next time you see your child’s speech and language therapist. You can show them what you have been doing and highlight your concerns about the lack of progress and see if they can show you some new strategies or offer further support.