“My 16-month old doesn’t really talk. Is that normal?”
“I don’t understand what my almost two-year-old is saying. What should I do?”
These two questions (or very similar questions) are asked frequently by many parents. Typical responses from well-meaning friends and family (and maybe even the pediatrician) might go something like this:
- He’s a boy. They talk later. Don’t worry.
- My child didn’t talk until he was 3 years old. Don’t worry.
- Just keep talking to her all the time. Don’t worry.
- All kids develop differently. It’s normal. Don’t worry.
It’s wonderful to be supportive of people who are worried, but does the original question have to be asked only when someone is worried about their child? Maybe the parent just wants some strategies to use at home to help with speech and language skills. They may simply be looking for information and by giving them the “don’t worry” response we haven’t really helped at all. My fear is that telling people to not worry means they don’t need to do anything and nothing they do at home would change anything anyway.
Many parents may not necessarily be worried about their child but they just want solid information about how to help communication develop at home. Their toddlers might be frustrated about communication even if there is no speech delay at all or at least not enough of a delay to qualify for an Early Intervention program. These parents still want to help their children and we should give them the tools. Thank you to the parents who ask “what can I do at home to help my child learn, to help my child talk, to help my child develop?” Being a parent who wonders is not necessarily a parent who worries.
Yes, we should talk to our babies and toddlers – A LOT. However, you’ll have much more of an impact when you talk WITH your baby and not just AT her. The way in which we interact, play and communicate with our little ones has a significant impact in how they learn to talk.
Some parents may have been told to wait another six months or wait until a specific age before they seek out help (which usually means calling an Early Intervention program or a speech therapist directly or getting a referral from the pediatrician). So what do you do while you’re waiting? Nothing?
Oh, right, just keep talking to your toddler and don’t worry.
Instead of taking a “Wait and See” approach… let’s call it “Do and See”. Not every parent needs to have their 18-month old child evaluated by a Speech-Language Pathologist, but every parent could think about how they talk with their child at home and not if their child is talking.
This waiting period is the best time to start doing SOMETHING. There are so many great resources online (and books and videos) about how to communicate and interact with your little one – even before speech develops. Early communication skills like imitating, gesturing, and understanding language are essential to the foundation of speech. This is where the best at home play and practice can really make an impact. Wondering how to best help your child during this stage is fantastic! THIS is why I started my blog and THIS is why I have a passion for helping parents who just want some support and ideas. I don’t want parents to have to wait until they are truly worried or wait until that first word doesn’t develop before they learn how to be the best speech and language teacher for their own child.
Where to start? At the beginning. Words are not the beginning.
Social games like peekaboo, imitation skills like taking turns making raspberry noises, gestures like lifting arms to be picked up, understanding words for baby’s favorite people, objects… ALL of these things should develop before words. If you want to help your little one, don’t do nothing… Start doing something. How you play, interact, make sounds, use words, use silence, give choices…there are many ways you can make a difference at home. Wondering is just the first step!
Here are some posts I’ve already written about communication before speech:
Be sure to “like” and follow my Facebook page for all the latest information regarding my parent workshops, baby and toddler play classes, and in-home play sessions. Looking for play ideas at home? That’s what this blog is all about! You’ll find them in the folder “play ideas”.