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Is your child’s communication behind compared to other kids his age?  Is he a “late talker?”  Try these 6 simple tips at home to encourage communication.  If you’re not sure if your child’s communication skills are delayed, be sure to read Learning to Talk: Speech and Language Milestones from Birth to 3.

6 Communication Tips for Your Late Talker

1. Toy Placement

If your house is anything like mine, your child probably has a lot of stuff and it’s taking over (please tell me it’s not just me!).  If your child’s toys are easily accessible, it reduces the need for him to ask for what he wants. Consider moving some toys out of reach, but still in view, to encourage him to ask for them.  If your child is not yet speaking, he might ask for the desired toy by pointing at it. In this instance, you can name the toy (e.g., “car”) to provide a model for your child. It’s okay if he doesn’t immediately repeat the word that you modeled; you’re still teaching him how to communicate.

2. Self Talk

Self talk is the act of talking about what you are seeing, doing or hearing.  For example, if you are preparing pancakes for breakfast, you could talk about the steps (e.g., I’m pouring the milk.  I’m mixing the batter.). By using self talk, your child is learning new vocabulary, as well as how to put words together.

3. Parallel Talk

Parallel talk is similar to self talk.  You will still be narrating things that are seen, heard, and done.  However, instead of your own activities, you will talk about those that your child is doing.  For example, if your child is playing with cars, you could say something like, “The car is driving fast.”  Just like with self talk, using parallel talk allows your child to learn new words related to activities or contexts which he’s already interested in.

4. Choices

Giving choices is a great way to encourage communication development.  You can show your child two things (food, toys, etc.) and allow him to choose which he wants.  Make sure to include spoken language when giving the choices so your child begins to learn the words (e.g., Do you want the cars or the blocks?).  If your child, in some way, tries to communicate his preference (by pointing, looking at, reaching for, making a sound), he should receive the requested item.  You can reinforce his choice by saying the name of the item again as you give it to him (e.g., “Here’s the car”).

5. Verbal Models

A verbal model is saying something you want your child to say.  For example, if you want your child to say “car,” you first say “car.”  Keep in mind that children can be late talkers for a number of reasons. As such, strictly modeling a word (“car” in this example) will not necessarily have immediate effects.  Depending on your child’s skills and reasons for delays, he will not likely say the word “car” just because you modeled it. However, providing frequent models for meaningful words increases the likelihood that your child will learn the words and try to say them.  Any attempt that your child makes at trying to repeat what you’ve said should be praised, even if the repetition was not perfect (e.g., saying “ca” for car).

6. Time Delay

Just as important as it is for us to talk to encourage communication, it’s equally important for us to be quiet.  A time delay is the act of pausing or waiting a few seconds to give your child the time to attempt to communicate. During this delay, you are not providing any models or anticipating your child’s needs.  For example, if your child is trying to open a cookie jar and is struggling to do so, your knee jerk reaction might be to run over and help him with it and/or use it as an opportunity to model the word “cookie” or “open.”  However, by using a time delay, you watch the activity unfold and wait a moment to see if your child will, in some way, communicate with you that he needs help opening the jar.

If your child is a late talker and already receiving speech therapy, the speech-language pathologist (SLP) is likely using many, if not all, of these strategies.  Make sure to speak to your SLP to see which strategies she’s using with your child and which would be the best for you to use at home. Working as a team with your SLP will have the greatest impact on your child’s communication development.  If your child is a late talker and has not yet been evaluated by an SLP, these strategies can be useful to try at home while you wait for an appointment. If you do not yet have an appointment scheduled, be sure to look for a local SLP to assist your child in developing his communication skills.