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How To Enhance Your Child’s Speech Development

Written by James Kicinski-McCoy

Photography by Photographed by James Kicinski-McCoy

If you’ve ever suspected that your toddler might not be on track or talking as much as other kids his or her age, we feel you. Worrying that there might be a problem, learning disability, or the need for speech therapy can be stressful. While all kids are different and start talking at their own pace, there are specific speech milestones that parents should watch out for. Which is why we’ve tapped Jessie L. Ginsburg, M.S., CCC-SLP, and owner of Pediatric Therapy Playhouse, to shed some light on these concerns and provide some much-needed guidance.

According to Ginsburg, standard speech milestones are as follows: “By age one, your child should have at least one word in his or her vocabulary. By age two, your child should have at least 50 words in their vocabulary and you should be able to understand at least 50% of what he/she says. By age three, your child should have hundreds of words in his vocabulary, and you should be able to understand at least 90% of what he/she says.”

Ginsburg stresses the importance of language development in the first three years of life for a child’s future academic and social success. “Early language is very important for both a child’s cognitive development and emotional stability. The lack of a means to communicate may lead a child to throw more tantrums, which in turn leads to frustrated parents and children,” she says.

If you feel your child might have an issue, Ginsberg advises asking for help early. “Parents may initially seek out their child’s pediatrician to express their concerns. The pediatrician may then recommend that the child be evaluated for a speech delay,” she says. “Each state has an early intervention program that provides free evaluations to children under the age of three. If a child is 3 years or older, he may be eligible to receive a free evaluation through his local school district. Parents may also seek evaluations or treatment for their child from local private clinics or hospitals, which are often covered by health insurance.”

The good news is, there are several ways you can help your child starting in your own home. While speech-language pathologists might work directly with children a couple hours a week, parents have the advantage of being with their child around the clock. Ginsburg points to the following methods of encouraging your child’s speech development and vocabulary from the comfort of your home.

Use correct grammar: “Don’t cut your sentences short because you think it will be easier for your child to understand you, like ‘Jack sit chair’. Instead, use correct grammar: ‘Jack, sit in the chair.’ Although your child might use short sentences with incorrect grammar when he first starts talking, he will naturally begin to use complete sentences with correct grammar as he grows older.”

Model correct speech sounds: “Don’t model incorrect sounds because it sounds cute (‘That’s a cute bunny wabbit’). If you model incorrect sounds in words, your child will learn those words, but will use those incorrect sounds. Therefore, model correct sounds (‘That’s a cute bunny rabbit’). You can still use a fun, higher pitched tone of voice to be cute!”

Expand your sentences: “Use one or two more words in your sentences than your child uses. For example, if your child says ‘blue car’, you can say ‘blue car goes fast.’”

Don’t forget to listen: “Remember that talking is a two-way interaction. Talking to your child is great, but giving your child the opportunity to talk back is equally important. Wait for your child to respond! Try counting to five after you ask a question or make a comment in order to give your child time to process what you said and respond, even if his response is just a gesture or vocalization.”

Balance your questions with comments: “When we ask question after question, it can be very overwhelming for a child. For every question you ask your child, try to make a comment. This will put less pressure on your child to communicate.”

Give your child choices: “We tend to often rely on yes/no questions because they are easy for children to answer. However, if you instead give your child a choice (i.e. ‘milk or juice?’), you are providing your child with two great vocabulary words to use.”

Repeat, repeat, repeat: “The way your child will add new words to his vocabulary by hearing words frequently and in many different contexts.”

Play with your child: “It is that simple! Remember that children learn through play. Find activities that are motivating to your child and captivate his interests. Sing songs, move around, and use exciting words and intonation to make interacting fun for your child.”

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