Are you wondering how you can help your child develop their language skills? Since we know that speech and language begin at birth, there are certainly things that we as parents and caregivers can do to encourage and enhance speech and language development. What you do and how you respond to the child should ideally be tailored to his or her age.
How to encourage language development in children at different ages
Language development: Birth to 5 months
Respond to your baby’s cries. Is baby hungry, tired, in pain or simply asking for attention? Responding appropriately teaches baby that a cry will bring food, comfort or attention. Newborns also recognise important sounds in their environment and quickly learn the sound of their parents or caregiver’s voice.
Responding to the coos and babbling is just as important as responding to crying. In most cases this kind of interaction comes naturally to parents. Parents and caregivers talk to babies while they change nappies, cuddle and show off things in the environment. This is all crucial for language development.
Language development: 6 to 12 months
From roughly 6 months babies can recognise the basic sounds of their home language. Singing songs and playing music, repeating the sounds that they make, playing games like peek-a-boo and saying words while doing the actions encourage language and understanding. An example of this would be to wave while saying good-bye.
Language development: 12 to 18 months
This is such a fun stage for language development. Simple picture books make for wonderful stimulus. An example would be a picture book of animals. You can encourage the child to say the name of the animal and the sound it makes.
Talking about what you are doing and encouraging them to repeat after you is also a fun activity. “We are going to visit Granny.” Often the child will repeat “Granny”. Continue playing music and singing nursery rhymes and filling their world with language.
Language development: 18 to 24 months
Reading stories out loud is such a powerful tool for language and speech development. Often a child will want the same story read over and over again. This is wonderful. It encourages speech but also memory skills as well as listening skills. If your child says a single word, try to expand on that word. If baby says “dog” you can say “yes, a dog barks, woof, woof”.
Show baby photos and point out the people – Mommy, Daddy, Granny etc depending on the terms you use in your family. I love that one of my patients referred to Granny as Glamster and Grandpa as Grumpy. The names have stuck for the rest of the grandchildren and it is so endearing. The child may also request things using a single word like “milk”. You can expand on this by saying, “Would you like some milk?”
Language development: 2 to 3 years
Talk about how your child is feeling. “Did you have a happy day at school?”. Listen to your child and look at them while they are speaking. I was in the supermarket a while ago and a little boy was desperately trying to tell his mother something. She was busy texting on her phone. Eventually the little chap began to cry and said, “Mommy you are not listening”.
They are really aware of being heard at this age and you need to give them time. Don’t finish their sentences for them unless they have been struggling for at least 10 seconds. Encourage storytelling and talk about the activities you are doing together. “We are putting the toys in the box”, “You are going to put on your shoes” and so on.
Language development: 3 years +
There are a multitude of activities which encourage language and speech after the age of three. Reading stories and listening to music teaches new vocabulary but also encourages the child to use his or her own imagination and encourages expression.
It is so important that we limit screen time. Children become fixated on these devices and they stop engaging with the world around them. There are some good education programmes available but these will never replace the benefits of one-on-one interaction.