I was working with a boy who didn’t have much vocabulary at age 4. I tried calling different speech and language therapists around the area and found that many of them were not accepting new clients. The ones who were, cost an average of $150/hour and that’s not including the registration and admin fees. I was frustrated that this service seemed so inaccessible.
Thankfully, I found online resources that gave guidance on how to encourage children to talk. If you’re finding that your child doesn’t have much vocabulary, give these tips a try!
These tips are in no way a means to replace therapists and other professionals from working with your child. If you are needing professional assistance, it is highly encouraged to seek that out. These ideas are just to add as a support method for your child.
The key thing to remember here is to not compare your child to others. Every child typically begins verbal communication at different times in their life and they might just need a bit of encouragement to keep building on their skills!
1. Talk using full sentences. When our children are barely talking, it can be tempting to talk to them using fewer words. For example, saying “more milk?” instead of saying, “William, did you want more milk?” Using fuller sentences can help the children grasp onto vocabulary and challenge them to put more effort into comprehension. Another mistake caregivers often make is using baby language with their child. For example, using short forms or “cute names” for things such as, “wa-wa” for “water.” Using full words will help the child catch on and continue to use the same vocabulary without later confusion.
2. Wait for them to respond using words. This is one of the biggest points that I’d want any adult to highlight. Oftentimes, not enough time is given for the children to respond - robbing them of the opportunity to use their own words. For example, “Barry, did you want the blue toy or the pink toy? The blue toy, right? Ok, here!” A strategy I found helpful when waiting for a child’s response is to count silently in my head, “Gabe, what happened to the grapes that fell on the floor?” *count, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, then ask again if there’s still no response* “The grapes on the floor, Gabe, what happened to them?” *count, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.* Giving children this time allows them to process, and think of a response. If they know that you’re waiting to give them a reply, they’re more inclined to put in the effort of trying. If there’s no room to respond and time isn’t given to them, then they will keep assuming that they don’t have to say anything.
3. Pay attention to their interests. We need to know our child’s interests in order to build a strong and trusting relationship with them. Once the child is able to see that you understand and know their wants and needs, they will be more willing to listen.
4. Have them repeat after you. Giving this guidance could be very helpful to children who feel like they just don’t know what to say. Asking for a child to repeat after you can be fun for them and it will build their confidence as they wait to be able to process their own thoughts.
5. Sing songs (preferably with actions). Singing songs can do wonders for a child’s vocabulary and comprehension. With actions, they can better understand what the words mean. Many songs are repetitive and this helps them retain the information as they hear it over and over in a fun and engaging way.
6. Pretend play. Pretend play opens up their creativity and imagination. When children are having fun, they are more likely to want to use their words to communicate with you.
7. Narrate actions of the child. This one may be challenging if you consider yourself to be more of a quiet person but narrating your child's actions can help them pick up more vocabulary while understanding what it is their doing. For example, “Mia, I see that you picked up a blue dress to wear today. It’s so beautiful!” “Blake, you’re playing with your toy cars outside! That looks like so much fun!” Children typically get excited when they see that you’ve noticed them and are recognizing what they’re doing.
8. Read books. Reading books allows children to use their imagination while being exposed to vocabulary they wouldn’t typically use or hear. This quality time of reading to your child does wonders for their speech development.
9. Ask questions. Asking questions encourages your child to think and gives them the opportunity to respond. Below are examples that you can use with your child using items that are commonly found at home.
A: “Where’s the dice? *pause* Is it beside the bottle? *gasp for dramatic effect* On top of the bottle? *put thinking face on and wait for them to respond*
B: *Sing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm”* “Where the cow? What sound does the cow make?”
We hope these suggestions will prove helpful to you and your child. We’d love to hear which ones you tried and enjoyed! Let us know in the comments section or contact us via email!