Most parents are overjoyed when they hear their baby slowly pronounce his or her first word. There is an indescribable feeling of awe and excitement when your babbling baby, who just a few months ago was just learning to smile and crawl, can begin to enunciate the word “mama”, “dada”, or “toy.”
It really is amazing to observe the speech development of infants and toddlers and to notice how all of a sudden, nonsense baby talk (at least it sounds nonsensical to adults) starts to morph into sounds that resemble real words. Eventually, it becomes even more exciting when your baby slowly starts stringing together newly-learned words to form elementary sentences. And this is just the start of many years of speech and language development.
Parents’ Involvement in Speech Development
As a caring parent, you have more influence on your child’s learning and speech development than you may think. Since humans are adaptable beings, early-life coaching, concentrated learning, and structured play can be tremendously helpful for your child’s cognitive progress. Most likely, you spend the longest durations of time with your developing child (especially during the earlier months and years), so you are most apt to assess their progress and to tenderly incite a love for learning from a young age.
However, since new parents rarely take a class on developmental learning for children before they’re given their parenting roles, a short list of what to expect at each age can be really helpful. Most parents would be surprised to find out that there are actually more than a few things they can do to stimulate learning in their young children.
Five Ways to Help Your Child Develop Speech Abilities
According to the National Institutes of Health, “The most intensive period of speech and language development for humans is during the first three years of life, a period when the brain is developing and maturing. These skills appear to develop best in a world that is rich with sounds, sights, and consistent exposure to the speech and language of others.” Here are just five things you can purposefully do as a parent to maximize your child’s speech and learning progress:
- Positive Reinforcement: It is no secret that human beings (and other living creatures) learn best when they receive encouraging feedback. Your child can benefit abundantly from positive visual and verbal reinforcement. For example, when your child attempts to repeat a difficult word that you just said, make sure to smile, nod, and verbally praise their attempt by saying something such as “Yes!”, “Wow” or “Good job!”.
- Listen and Respond: The best way to assess your child’s progress is to be cognizant of your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Listen attentively to your child and try to glean as much information about his or her needs, likes and dislikes, and overall perception of the world around him/her. The importance of listening cannot be understated; when a mother listens attentively to her child, she can respond effectively. Children will appreciate the personalized attention and their learning will naturally advance. Remember to respond in a natural voice and keep your responses simple but informative.
- Learning by Imitation: Repetition is very important when you’re trying to teach your child new words or phrases. Coupled with positive reinforcement when a milestone is reached (no matter how ‘small’), repetition guarantees that your child is properly exposed to enough material that can enhance his or her learning. Make sure to repeat any new word and enunciate clearly so your child can gain a better grasp on the way it’s pronounced and in which contexts the word is usually used.
- Regular Reading: Reading to your child may seem like basic advice to any parent, but one cannot overemphasize the importance of such an activity, especially since it has been shown to dramatically improve toddlers’ speech. Read age-appropriate material in a friendly, clear voice. Make sure to read slowly and with an expressive tone. Be especially sensitive to the way your child is reacting to the material and ask simple questions to encourage interaction.
- Learning is Fun: This is another point that may seem obvious at first, but is vital to keep in mind when teaching your child any skill. Keep the process lighthearted and fun, as well as choose carefully the learning material to reflect his or her budding interests. In other words, make sure the learning materials incorporate enough visual stimulation in the form of pictures or other multimedia that is entertaining for your child. To incite an enthusiastic response, consider adding songs and other interactive puzzles that make the experience fun!
The most important things to do as a parent are to monitor your child’s learning development and be aware of any incongruities between your child’s speech and reading level and the level anticipated for children of that age group. If you are not sure where to start, need quality resources, or believe that your child can benefit from a consultation with a trained pediatric speech therapist, do not hesitate to contact a respected speech therapy clinic in your area.
Chicago Speech Therapy Can Help