In last week’s blog, I revealed a shocking study that noted the impact that income level has on a child’s development of language skills.
The results showed that children from low income families hear fewer words from their parents and caregivers than children in higher income families, and as a result, have poorer language skills by the time they reach kindergarten. These language skill deficits only continue throughout childhood are evident when retested in high school, regarless of early intervention programs and school programs aimed at improving these skills.
The results from this particular study pointed out the important influence of a child’s family during those early childhood years. Children’s language skills appeared to stem simply from the number of words that their parents were speaking–or not speaking–to them during the first few years of life.
As promised in last week’s post, here are 10 tips to help you build your child’s language skills, no matter what income level you belong to. Whether you are a parent on welfare or a parent with a six figure salary, you can easily practice these techniques with your child to ensure that your child hears the amount of words she needs to hear to develop adequate language skills for life.
1. Narrate Your Actions
Let’s see, we need to buy some cereal for breakfast. Let’s buy some Cheerios, Frosted Mini Wheats and Wheaties. We better buy some milk to go with that cereal too…
Oh, your diaper smells stinky. Pee-eww! Let’s get you changed. I’m laying you down. Now I’m grabbing the clean diaper. Now I’m getting rid of that stinky diaper. Here comes the wipe. Oh that’s cold, isn’t it?
2. Narrate Your Child’s Actions
You grabbed the blankie and put it over your face. Now I can’t see you anymore. Oh! There you are again!
You put the circle block into the circle hole. And now you put the rectangle block into the star hole…oops, the rectangle block doesn’t fit into the star hole. It won’t fit, but you keep trying anyway. Now you’re getting mad and it looks like you need some help to put the rectangle block in the rectangle hole, instead of the star hole.
3. Ask a Question
What do you think we should do tonight? Stay inside and cuddle? That sounds good to me!
Why do you think the bunny ran away from us? You think it’s because he was scared, huh? I think you might be right. I think the bunny was scared of us.
4. Read an Age-Appropriate Book
Infants: Board books with one or two words on a page accompanied by a picture
Toddlers: Board books or indestructible books with a few words on a page
Preschoolers: Books with many words and accompanying pictures
5. Label People, Places and Things
Book, bottle, paci, blankie, car, giraffe, Aunt Susan, mommy, daddy…
6. Sings Songs…Repeat!
Baa Baa Black Sheep
The Itsy Bitsy Spider
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
Mary Had a Little Lamb
7. Label Emotions
Oh, look at that angry face! You got so mad when the car didn’t do what you wanted it to.
You have so many tears coming down your face. You were sad when I left the room, but now that I’m back you are smiling.
Owie! I stubbed my toe on the couch! That hurt and made my face look very angry!
8. Use Child’s Name in a Sentence or Song
There were 10 in the bed and Lucy said, roll over, roll over…
Where’s Dillon? Are you hiding from me, Dillon? Come out, come out wherever you are, Dillon!
Let’s get Henry’s diaper changed and give Henry some breakfast!
9. Use Baby Sign Language
10. Play Language Games
Hannah, Hannah bo Bannah, Banana Fannah fo Fannah, mi my mo mannah….Hannah!
I spy with my little eye, a…red firetruck!
Simon says, wiggle your toes!
Mother May I or What Time is It Mr. Shark?
These tips are meant to be a starting point for parents who are unsure of what to say to their child. Once parents have used these 10 tips with their kids, talking should come more naturally and the discomfort of talking to a child who isn’t yet able to talk back or communicate fluently will diminish over time.
The important thing to remember is that just because a child is preverbal doesn’t mean she can’t understand what you are saying. The more you talk to your preverbal child, the more likely it is that she will be fluently speaking to you in her toddler and preschool years, and the more likely it is that she’ll have the foundation for the language skills she’ll need in school…and beyond!