Parents often make comments such as; “My child is not speaking because he is “lazy”, OR “His older brother speaks for him!” The thing is, your child would speak if he/she could. After all, it is much easier for him to get what he wants by saying the word/phrase and getting it almost immediately, compared to grunting or dragging you across the room to the item he wants. It is easy to think your child is “lazy” because many children who are late to talk are quite bright and understand much of what you say. Given the opportunity, your child will speak (as long as they are cognitively and physically able)! Some children learn to speak quite easily, and some take a bit longer and require a bit more support. I like to compare it to a sport; some children pick up soccer right away and some need more practice/modeling of the skills. Both children can end up being great soccer players, but the one child needs a little bit more help and opportunity to practice. The same goes for speaking. Your child may need more opportunities and motivation to communicate.
Below I have listed 8 tips to get your child to talk! Many are what Speech Therapists call “Communication Temptations”. Communication temptations “tempt” the child by setting up the environment so that the child has a reason to communicate.
- Eat one of your child’s favourite snacks in front of him but don’t offer him any. If your child begins to point and grunt, model the sign and/or word for him. If he makes any attempt at the word, reinforce him right away by giving a piece of the snack. Then, WAIT to see if he/she will request the item again. Holding the snack beside your face so your child is encouraged to look at your mouth is often helpful in eliciting the sounds/words. If you child is at the 1-word stage and you would like to expand his output, encourage a 2-3 word phrase by modeling the request (e.g. “Big piece” OR, “I want juice.”)
- Give your child a piece of cracker/snack one at a time. Instead of providing your child with his full serving, offering a smaller portion allows him the chance to ask for another piece/more. If your child doesn’t request for more food, then model the word/phrase you would like him to say (e.g. “more apple”, “fishy”, etc).
- Put your child’s favourite toy/snack on a top shelf so they have to ask for the item.
- Place pieces of a puzzle/lego in a bag so the child has to request for the puzzle pieces/lego one at a time. This gives you some control over the activity and encourages more communication/turn taking.
- Activate a wind-up toy, let it deactivate and hand it to your child. Most likely, your child would not be able to wind up the toy himself, therefore, will need your help. He may just hand it back to you and grunt. Instead of winding it up for him based on this nonverbal request, model the word for him ith the toy beside your mouth (e.g. “turn”, “cow”, “jump”, etc).
- Put your child’s favourite toy or snack in a container that is difficult to open, then give the container to your child. Again, the purpose in this is not to frustrate your child but rather tempt him to communicate. Encourage your child to request the item by modeling the desired request (e.g. “open”, “off”, “toy”, “help”, etc).
- Give your child only a ¼ cup of juice/water at a time. This is similar to the snack idea and allows your child the chance to ask for more. If your child does not ask for more, you can model the word/phrase. Offering choices is another great way to get your child to request (e.g. “milk or juice?”).
- 8. Blow bubbles then screw the lid on tightly and hand it back to your child for his turn. Wait for him to request help with a sign or a word. Model the sign or word if necessary.
Using these communication temptations with your child will encourage him to communicate by showing him the effect his words have on you (ie. He says something, he gets something.) These tricks will hopefully discourage your child from simply grunting, as he does not get what he wants that way. If your child continues to grunt, model the appropriate word/phrase for him and then WAIT. If he continues grunting, model AGAIN and WAIT! It is important to note that we do not want to overly frustrate our kids and we do not want to withhold food/toys etc. all hours of the day, nor when they are particularly tired/cranky. It is VERY IMPORTANT to be quick and consistent with your reinforcement and give the desired item as soon as he makes his attempt at verbal communication. We want your child to make the connection between “saying something” and “getting something”. The more interactions like this children get, the more confident they will become at communicating verbally on their own.