Language Skills for Your Baby and Toddler: Twelve Ways You Can Help Your Child Develop Language Skills

Studies show that children have better grammar and larger vocabularies when they are talked to, conversed with, stimulated, and read to often during their infancy and early childhood.

Although parents will probably have the most influence on language skills,anyone in a child’s life can encourage that child’s language development.

1. Sign Language: Teach your infant and toddler to sign simple words through American Sign Language.There is ample research to show that signing not only works for communicating before verbal communication is possible, it also increases verbal skills and vocabulary.

2. Talk: Talk to your child from day one. Talk about any subject as the child’s day develops. For example, say to your child as he/she finishes breakfast, “You have finished eating your warm oatmeal and cool applesauce. Ummm, they both tasted good. Now you will take a bath and get dressed.” While you bathe your child say, “Daddy is going to pour warm water on your back. See, Maxine, it feels good. Now we will dry off with a big soft towel and put on some cool lotion.” When you take a walk later in the day, keep up a running commentary on the sunshine, flowers, grass,birds, wind, etc. Keep that commentary going all day.

3. Read: Your baby is never too young to hear you read. Future reading success is at least partially determined by the amount of time parents spend reading with and to their child. You can start with picture books and add longer stories(“chapter books”) as your child gets older.

4. Collect Books: Build a collection of children’s books for your child. They don’t have to be new or expensive. Garage sales and “Friends of the Library” sales are great places to pick up books on the cheap.

5. Story Time: Story times at your library or bookstore help children appreciate reading and books.

6. Tell Stories: Make up your own simple stories that fit your child’s interests and often include him/her as a character. Making up a story about the world around you is a good way to narrate a walk with your child. “Once upon a time, Max and Mommy were taking a walk when…” Encourage your child to tell you stories, too. Hearing a local story teller is great if one is available in your area.

7. Child Leads: Follow your child’s lead. If you notice an interest in a particular picture or event in your world, keep talking about it. If she seems intrigued by animals, show her more animals and talk about them, too. If she keeps coming back to the dogs, show her different dogs and talk about their sizes, colors,furs, and noises such as barks, whines, or growls.

8. Music: Play music for your child,even as an infant. They love music, clapping, different instruments/sounds and movement. Music teaches him the rhythm of language and helps him learn about her world.The Wiggles make great videos and CDs that “make” children sing, dance and wiggle along while learning about many subjects.

9. Repeat Her Sounds/Words: While your child is an infant, repeat her babbles back to her. As your child grows, don’t ever criticize your child’s speech. Instead, repeat his sentences or words back to him with the correct pronunciation or usage.

10. Praise Speech Efforts: Give your child lots of praise for all efforts to communicate.

11. Stimulate Child: Different experiences stimulate children. Stimulation can be as simple as a daily walk or trips to different parks around town or a special trip to a farm, zoo, or children’s museum.Talk about everything you see, feel, or hear. This will help your child develop a love of learning and his language skills.

12. Hearing Loss: Make certain your child can hear. Treat ear infections thoroughly as they put your child at risk for hearing loss and possible language delays. If your pediatrician prescribes an antibiotic as treatment, dispense it to your child as directed and for the full time. When she finishes the prescription, schedule a follow-up visit with your pediatrician to make certain the infection has cleared. Robert Cohen of the National Dairy Council advises parents to be aware that children who have many ear infections are usually helped or even cured by substituting soy products for products made from cow’s milk. However, Cohen warns parents to be careful that the soy products substituted for dairy products don’t contain casein–a cow’s milk protein that contributes to ear infections.

Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics, National Dairy Council, Michael Greger,MD.