One of the most awaited milestones of every parent, along with the first smile and the first unassisted step, is her baby’s first word. Once you’ve heard the first ‘ma-ma’ or ‘da-da’, you would probably continue to hold your breath for the next words that will be uttered, and each new word will be received with glee and pride.
But how do you know that your child’s speech is progressing normally? What should you do if it does not seem to be developing well?
According to Dr. Sonia Buenaventura, a pediatrician who has been practicing for more than 30 years, she expects her young patients to have said their first word by their first birthday. If this important milestone has not been reached by the time the baby is one year old, she keeps a close watch on speech development and recommends an evaluation by a developmental pediatrician if very little to no progress is made over the next months.
Although some kids might be recommended for speech therapy, some might just be late talkers and will eventually catch up. In fact, a study1 shows that around 13% of two-year-olds are late talkers, with boys three times as likely to have delay.
Just like with other skills that your child will master, practice and the right stimulation can help, but keep in mind as well that kids develop at their own pace. Whether your child’s speech needs to be improved on or he is just a late talker, here are some of the things you can do to help boost your child’s speech development.
1. Talk to your child. Speech is a learned skill and talking to your child will provide more opportunities for him to learn and acquire that skill. Talk to your child as much as you can and be vocally expressive about everything that is happening around you. Here are simple things you can do to help build his vocabulary and encourage him to talk: • Talk and describe what you are doing as you go about your usual tasks • Point out names for various objects everywhere you go • Name the colors of things around you • Count various items • Name his body parts • Show him pictures of different animals, name the animals, and make the animal sounds • Sing nursery rhymes
Maintain eye contact while talking to your child and listen for words that your toddler might be trying to say and watch his body language closely. Wait for anything that your toddler might use to communicate back and respond to these cues to further encourage him.
Speak in short sentences to allow your child to easily process the words and the meaning of what you are saying, but try to use sentences that are one word longer than the sentences your child is using. You can simply repeat what your child said but with an added word or two to help him increase his vocabulary and improve sentence construction.
2. Ask questions (even if your child does not answer). Some parents might find it silly to ask their child questions if the child does not really talk yet, but this is a great exercise for any child learning to speak. There are so many things that goes into this simple activity – understanding the meaning of the question, thinking of the answer, and putting words together to come up with the answer – all of which your child needs to practice. Even if you do not always successfully receive a response or you already know the answer to your question, just continue asking anyway; your child just might surprise you with a well-thought out answer.
Ria Guevarra, a mother whose son underwent speech therapy for three years, suggests asking your child about his entire day. She recalls one of her strategies with her child, “I have him recount his entire day at school including little details like his snacks, his seatmate’s snacks, who shared with whom, etc.”
3. Read to your child. Numerous materials have been written on the benefits of reading to children and improved speech development is one of them. Although reading a storybook can greatly help in increasing your child’s vocabulary, simple activities like pointing at the pictures and naming them also helps. Slowly progress after several readings into pointing at the pictures and asking your child, “What’s this?” to encourage him to name the object, or asking your child, “Where is the …?” to engage him into pointing to the object being asked for.
4. Create situations that will drive your child to communicate. Speech is a very powerful tool and this will be easily understood by your child if you create situations that will require him to speak and communicate with you. Eat your child’s favorite food in his presence but do not offer him any, put just a little water in his cup when he is thirsty, or place his favorite things in hidden or hard-to-reach places –- these are a few things you can do to “tempt” your child to speak. There are many more you can come up with depending on your child’s interests. The key is to draw a reaction from your child that will make him talk.
5. Let your child draw. Another activity that Ria does with her son is to let him draw at least one picture a day and have him say something about the drawing. According to her, the drawings progressed along with her son’s speech. From simple drawings of what happened to her son on that day, the drawings transitioned later on into wants, dreams, and ideas, and gave them more topics to talk about.
6. Listen to your child. Even adults get discouraged when talking to someone who is not listening to them, so make sure you listen to your child when he tells you something! Give your full attention once your child has made attempts to start a ‘conversation’. If your child knows that he can effectively express himself and communicate, he will be encouraged to talk more.
7. Build your child’s confidence. As your child’s confidence in speaking grows, the more your child will speak. Ria shares that children having difficulty with speech need to be comfortable with expressing themselves. When her son was younger, their talks revolved around her son’s interests because according to her, “It’s easier to have them talk about what’s on their minds so they are not grasping for words.”
8. Do not use baby talk. Some people tend to use baby talk when talking to very young children. Avoid doing this because it teaches incorrect pronunciation, words, and sentence construction. If you must use a term that your child has made up, make sure to also use the correct name for it every time.
9. Do not make fun of your child’s speech. Most kids will go through a stage when they will say the words differently, which may be funny for adults. In typical Pinoy society, these kids will be called “bulol” and although this may be done with simple amusement, it might hold back your child’s speech development. Avoid laughing at or making fun of it because this will lower your child’s confidence. Instead, gently correct how your child is saying the words by repeating the words back properly.
10. Lessen exposure to television and electronic gadgets Young children’s exposure to television and electronic gadgets has been getting a lot of flak lately. The increase in the number of children who have speech problems the past few years is actually being attributed to increased exposure to television and electronic gadgets. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendation, children below 2 years of age should have zero screen time – this includes TV, tablets, and game consoles. For kids older than two, make sure to limit their screen time as well. On this aspect, Dr. Buenaventura says, “We strongly discourage the exposure of the child to TV shows, gadgets, and video games from 0-3 years. I have seen many hyperactive children nowadays who are speech delayed and with poor social and fine motor skills because of too much exposure to TV and gadgets.” Speech will lag behind if it is not being practiced and this will happen if your child is in front of a screen most of the time and not talking.
References: 1Telethon Institute for Child Health Research. "Mixed Results For Late-talking Toddlers." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 May 2008. http://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/Parent-Stim-Activities.htm http://www.hanen.org/Helpful-Info/Articles/How-to-Tell-if-Your-Child-is-a-Late-Talker-%E2%80%93-and-W.aspx http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2253991/Gadgets-blamed-70-cent-leap-child-speech-problems-just-years.html