Hearing a child’s first words is an exciting experience for every parent.  What many parents don’t know, however, is how easily they can help their child learn new words and use language to communicate wants and needs.

There are many simple ways to promote language development when your child starts speaking.  One of the most important and intuitive things you can do is talk with your child throughout the day.  Children are great imitators and begin to imitate words that they hear their parents, caregivers or family members use.  Talking to your child about the activities you are doing helps the child learn the appropriate language to describe each activity.  Incorporating descriptive language into daily activities, such as dressing, bathing or eating, is an easy and effective way to help your child build a vocabulary.  You can use the following strategies during daily routine activities:

  • Name the objects involved, “Look, there are your sneakers.”
  • Describe the objects using adjectives, “Your sneakers are red and will help you run fast.”
  • Explain about the objects and compare and contrast items, “This sneaker is red and that one is blue.”
  • Ask questions, “Do you know which sneaker goes on this foot?”
  • Pretending, “Wear these sneakers and you will be a fast runner.”
  • Ask their opinion, “Do you want to wear sneakers or sandals?”
  • Give directions, “Go get your sneakers.”

There are many ways to add language to an activity, such as putting on shoes, to expand your child’s vocabulary, teach them new phrases and add to already existing words/phrases in their communication forms.   When using the above strategy, remember to keep the activity fun and full of excitement.  Always praise your child for attempting to say new words, keep your sentences short and simple, use gestures and allow your child time to respond to you.

In addition to the above suggestion, you can also create opportunities throughout the day for your child to use language spontaneously.  All children will eventually develop a way to communicate what they want and this typically happens at first by using gestures and pointing at a preferred item.  Use this opportunity to have your child attempt to imitate words that she cannot say on her own.

For example: Your child points to the milk on the counter and grunts.  You know she wants milk, so you ask, “What do you want?”  The child then may continue to grunt and point.  An appropriate response would be, “I see you want milk.   Say milk.”  Your child then says “mi” in an attempt to say “milk.”  Your response should be “yes, milk.  I’m pouring your milk.   Here’s your milk.”  In this example you have acknowledged her request and created an opportunity for your child to practice a new word and learn that the best way to get what she wants is to verbally communicate.  This technique is an effective way for your child to understand the target word, learn new words and improve on her ability to use language to effectively communicate.

Have you found an effective strategy for helping your child build vocabulary?  Share it here:

Mindy Schaefer is a Speech Language Pathologist at Penfield Children’s Center.

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