Saturday, 23 May 2020

Encouraging Language Development in Babies and Toddlers

Today I was thinking of writing a post about ways in which we can encourage language development in babies and toddlers. This is one of my favourite subjects when it comes to children.

First of all, we can show affection in so many ways, and creating a bond will definitely help motivate our children to communicate with us: giving hugs and kisses, making eye contact, paying attention to our babies, playing with them, or simply being there when they need us.

When babies are blabbering, they are trying to communicate with us, so we should answer back, describe what we think the baby might be saying, and accept this invitation for a conversation. When you look at your baby and she says "boobah" you could think of what your baby might say and put it into words: "Oh. I see. You are looking at my socks. You like my orange socks, don't you?" (and then pause, so your baby gets a second to "reply").

"Children want to learn our language. Avoid baby talk and speak in full sentences so that you are modeling the language you want your child to adopt right from the beginning."

(Janet Lansbury - No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame). Imagine how you'd feel trying to speak a foreign language and instead of getting a reply to what you've just said, hearing something like "bla bla boo ba". You'd probably feel annoyed and would decide to keep your thoughts to yourself next time.

"We can maximize comprehension by making our sentences shorter, slowing down our speech, and pausing after each sentence to give our infant or toddler the time he needs to absorb our words." (Janet Lansbury - No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame)

It's also useful for a baby to hear you describe what you are doing to him, especially when it comes to daily routines. That will help the baby understand why you are doing certain things and also to expect what is going to happen next. Diaper changes are great opportunities to bond with your baby and have meaningful conversations. You could say: "I am taking your socks off. I am pulling your pants. I am opening the diaper. It is wet. Oh, you're smiling. Are you happy that I am changing your diaper? ...". Try to be genuine.

Another way to encourage your baby to talk is by giving them choices: between two pairs of pants, between reading a book together or by themselves, going outside or staying in (if both options are ok for you). That way, they'll feel like their opinions matter and they might not "rebel" against your other decisions.

Even when your child can say some difficult or new words, don't make him perform in front of friends or other family members (I admit I sometimes struggle with this - it's just because we are proud of what our children can do!). Asking them repeatedly "Can you say this to grandma/uncle ...?" might make them feel shy and might keep it them away from more important things.

When teaching a language, it's important not to constantly correct your child. That can make anyone reticent about using that language. Instead, use the correct word in another sentence when you find the appropriate context. For example, your child asks for the "banoon" (which you know means "balloon", you can just bring him the balloon and say "here is the balloon."

Singing is a wonderful way to build vocabulary. When singing songs and nursery rhymes, use gestures to show what the words mean. That will help your child learn by using more senses (hearing and sight). You can also "draw" the words on your child's back or tummy with your fingers - this is one of our favourite activities before bedtime.

Babies enjoy it when they are sung to. I love inventing songs about our daily routines and I sing them while I am doing those actions. For example "now we're washing our hands, our hands, our hands/ Now we're washing our hands with water and soap". Just find a tune that you'll remember and use word repetition. It's important though not to overstimulate your baby - you know your child better, so find moments when your baby seems interested in that and is not focusing on something else.

Reading books is another wonderful way to bond with your children and help develop their vocabulary. When reading books, talk about the pictures, ask yourselves what the characters are going to do next, if they like certain veggies, if you like the things they are doing etc.

Language baskets are easy to set up and they give your child opportunities to learn new vocabulary and explore objects. These can be with realistic toys, real objects, flashcards with pictures, or a combination. They are great for babies and toddlers to explore and match.

Sportscasting also helps develops vocabulary and helps toddlers deal with conflicts on their own. You can read more about sportscasting in one of my previous posts.

Try to be patient, don't compare your child to others. This sounds easy, but I know it's not.

I'm sure I've missed something. What has worked for you and your toddler/baby?


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