Give your child lots of one-on-one attention. Get down to their level and sit face-to-face. This will show them that you are listening and interested in what they have to communicate, encourage eye contact, and allow them to watch your face and mouth to see how you make sounds.
Limit Screen Time
Children under two-years-old should be exposed to ZERO screen time. Then, for the next several years, screen time should be limited and should only occur when participating with a caregiver. Yes, this is difficult. However, more and more research is demonstrating detrimental effects of screen time on developing brains.
Daily routines are a great time to encourage communication because children are familiar with what is going to happen and know what to expect. Use their familiarity to wait for them to indicate what should happen or what they want (i.e. asking you to open the fridge to get their milk). Also use routines to give them something unexpected to encourage them to communicate (i.e. place them in the bath with no water and wait for them to tell you to turn it on).
Talk, Talk, Talk!
The best way for kids to learn language is by hearing it. Describe, explain, have conversations. Do not simplify language for kids all the time. They need to hear complex language to learn it. Give them both models (i.e., "We need to pick up all the blocks and put them back in the box. Okay? Blocks go in.”)
Sing, Sing, Sing!
Singing is fun and grabs kids attention. It encourages them to imitate gestures and sounds. The added intonation makes language more interesting, and music activates different parts of the brain.
Read, Read, Read!
Books are fun, have pictures to increase interest and aide in understanding, and are great for repetition. Kids will enjoy becoming familiar with books. Read them, but also point to pictures to name objects, verbs, colors, shapes, emotions, prepositions, etc. Have kids predict what is going to happen next or retell parts of the stories using the pictures as cues. Talk about WHY things happen and what you would do in the situations. The possibilities are really endless with books.
Play, Play, Play!
Play skills develop alongside language skills. Join their play to participate in what they are interested in. Imitate what they are doing to encourage them to imitate you. Model pretend play (feed people or animals, put them to bed, etc.) Encourage turn-taking within activities.
You can use signs when communicating with kids to demonstrate their use as well as provide added cues for comprehending what is being talked about.
Gestures as a form of communication are great because you can physically prompt them. For example, when you know they want more or are all done with something, model the sign, pairing it with the word, then physically prompt it if needed, and then give them more or take the object away for ‘all done’. Using sign language (or any kind of alternative/augmentative communication) encourages verbal communication as well.
Give 2 Choices
For example, say “Do you want an apple or a banana?” and hold each up as you name them. This provides extra opportunities for them to hear objects being labeled and learn the vocabulary. It will also encourage them to use words rather than grab or simply indicate "Yes/No" if asked "Do you want THIS?" If they do not answer or label one option, encourage them to point.
Give two choices like in the previous suggestion. If they do not use a word, but go to reach for an object, model pointing, and then physically prompt them to point using their index finger. if needed This means gently taking their hand, forming a point, and tapping the object they indicate they want by looking toward it or reaching for it. Then immediately give them the desired object. This changes the action from just grabbing what they want to indicating to us what they want. It also helps kids learn that they have to tell us what they want, and as their words get more consistent, they will switch to using words.
Encourage imitation of simple sounds and sound combinations, like Consonant-Vowel combinations (i.e. "moo", "no", "go", etc.). Start with environmental sounds (cars, trucks, boats, etc.) and animal sounds during play. Try to direct the child's eye gaze to your mouth by holding objects next to it or pointing to it. If kids watch your mouth it will help them to be more accurate.
Have them point to body parts on themselves and others (or dolls). Have them point pictures in books. Have them clean up toys that you name (i.e. "Give me/Pick up the BALL"). Use more complex labels/descriptions over time (i.e. "red ball", "short truck", etc.)
Give a simple, familiar direction (i.e. “Come here”, “Sit down”, “Give me____”, “Throw this away”, etc.) If they do not complete it, give them a verbal cue (repeat the direction). Then give a visual cue (pointing, gesturing). Then give a physical cue (guide them gently and help them complete the direction). This will help them learn the meaning of the direction [comprehension] AND learn than they are expected to complete directions that they are given [compliance].
It is beneficial for kids to learn multiple languages. Even for children with developmental delays, it is NOT harmful to be exposed to different languages. If you want your children to be fluent in two languages, start as young as possible (preferably before six-months-old) and try to expose them as equally as possible.
Tips written by Rachel Troccoli, M.A., CCC-SLP.
Rachel is a Speech-Language Pathologist and the founder of Skyrocket Pediatric Therapy Foundation.