How To Help Your Child Communicate
Lots of people think that Speech-Language Pathologists just help children who lisp. Helping kids to speak clearly is important, but we do a lot more! We evaluate and treat communication disorders in everyone from young children to elderly adults. We help people communicate effectively, from learning first words to the subtleties of effective conversation. We help children understand language, talk in complete sentences, and realize that other people are interesting and fun.
Parents often ask me what they can do at home to help their children. Here are my answers to some specific questions I’ve been asked. Of course, no two children are alike. However, these suggestions are helpful for a lot of children, and they are definitely worth trying!
How can I help my child to understand what I say?
First, get their attention. Make sure that it’s easy for them to look at you by getting down to their level and facing them. Use simple language to talk about what they are doing. You can also use gestures or pictures to help them understand.
How can I encourage my child to communicate with me?
Set up the environment to encourage communication. Encourage children to ask for things by putting toys out of reach or in containers that they need help to open. Encourage them to comment by making funny changes to the environment. Pay close attention to any communication that they use – including reaching, pulling, pointing, or making sounds. Say what they would if they could.
How can I help my child use words?
Name things that they are looking at, reaching for, touching, or playing with. Children need to hear words many times and associate them with the things they refer to in order to start using words, so repeat them many times. Use short, correct sentences to talk about whatever has captured their attention. If they know a word but can’t always remember it, give them a hint – say the first sound or syllable of the word, or give them a choice of words.
What can I do to help my child improve their sentence structure?
Use lots of similar sentences so that they hear the same sentence structure many times. These repetitive sentences should only be a bit longer than your child’s own sentences. When your child says something, repeat it with the correct sentence structure to help them build better sentences. If your child uses an incomplete sentence, repeat their message using a complete sentence. If their sentence has an error in it, repeat it but correct the error. If their sentence is complete and correct, you can add a word or two or you can add an idea. It’s important that your child does not feel corrected – the most important thing is that they enjoy talking with you!
How can I help my child improve the way they use language with other people?
Teach children directly what to say or how to say it. Demonstrate what you want them to say or do, or show them with photos or videos. Practice social language such as greeting, having a conversation, understanding body language, and expressing emotions. The best time to practice is when children are calm.
Stéphanie Harvey, MA, SLP (C) is a Speech-Language Pathologist / orthophoniste. She runs Connect & Communicate groups to help children, youth and adults have fun talking and listening, and learn the skills they need to get along with family and friends. She also provides individual assessment and therapy for people of all ages with Autism and Aphasia.