Helping your child to learn to talk

Most babies start to say words such as mum and dad by their first birthday. By 18 months or two years they will have quite a large vocabulary of words such as ‘ball’ and ‘more’.

New speakers often have trouble saying word endings clearly, so you may hear ‘bor’ for ‘ball’, for example, or ‘da’ for ‘dad’. Repeat the word back to your child clearly so that it can hear the right ending. Smile while you speak to increase confidence. Don’t reprimand fuzzy speech or you could make it worse.

Increasing your child’s vocabulary: Talk slowly and clearly, and don’t speak against background noise from a radio or television set, which may obscure what you’re saying. Look directly at the child as you speak and put emphasis and tone into your voice. Any child will be eager to copy if you sound interesting enough.

Let your child hear new words all the time by explaining what you’re doing as you go about ordinary daily tasks. Use clear, simple sentences such as, ‘Let’s go to the shops now’ and ‘here is your teddy bear’.

Buy books: Even small babies of about six months or older can enjoy brightly coloured plastic books. Start off with books which have a single clear picture on each page, so that you can point to and name the object for the child.

Use gestures: Body language will reinforce a verbal message in a child’s mind, so make appropriate gestures whenever possible and encourage your child to copy them. Waving when you say goodbye to visitors, for example.

Turn it into a game: Point to your own nose, eyes, hair, mouth or other parts of your body and say each word clearly, getting the child to repeat it back to you. Or line up two or three favourite toys behind your back and bring them out one at a time, naming each.

Avoid baby talk, it’s no easier to learn and it means nothing.

Build on your child’s speech, expand on what your child says and use the opportunity to introduce new words. For example, if she points to her feet and says, ‘shoes’, you could reply, ‘yes they are brown/pink/blue shoes’.

When does a child need help? Ask a doctor or health visitors advice if a child has not spoken, cannot put two words together or still speaks unclearly by the age of two. Problems such as poor hearing or fluid behind the eardrum may require treatment, and whatever the cause of the difficulty, the earlier help is given the better.

If your child passes the tests given by the doctor but you are still unhappy about its speech, ask to be referred to a speech therapist or audiologist for more detailed testing.

Sometime there can be simple explanations for why a child is quiet. Is an older sibling too talkative or maybe the TVs always on? Does your toddler need more one to one attention from you? These are sometimes the poor speakers’ only problems.

Stuttering: Don’t panic if your child’s a stutterer, many children go through this phase and it may just be that there’s too much to say and it can’t all come out at the same time. Never interrupt or supply a difficult word. Give the child the satisfaction of saying it, even if it takes a long time. Don’t make an issue of the stuttering, this can make the child nervous and make the stuttering worse.

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