Saturday, July 14, 2012

Parents: What you can do right now to improve your child's language!

Many times I get questions from parents asking what they can do right now to help their child improve their communication skills.  This blog is really for children who use few or no words or are just beginning to speak.  Here is my attempt to give you a few quick suggestions to get your child to say a few more words.

Please DO try these tips at home:

1.  Don't Anticipate Your Child's Needs/Wants: 
As moms' and dads' we are so good at knowing what our children want that many times they don't even have to ask.  But the truth is they really do NEED TO ASK!  You won't always be there to anticipate or interpret their needs so you need to set them up for success.  PRETEND you don't know what they want.  Feign confusion. 

Example:   "I don't know what you want.  Tell mommy."  If your child cannot tell you or label the object he/she wants, have your child show you and then model the word for him/her.  "Oh, I see you are pointing to the ball.  You want the ball.  Tell mommy, ball."  No matter what your child says...if he/she makes a sound..."Good job telling Mommy, you want the ball.  Here you go."

2.  Give Binary Choices:
Giving a child the choice of two objects, one object being the thing you know he wants, the other choice something he clearly DOES NOT want is a great way to elicit more language.  Make sure the object your child is requesting is something he really wants so its HIGHLY MOTIVATING to make that request to receive the desired object! 

Example:  If your child is pointing at/reaching for a ball and saying "uh", give him TWO choices by holding two objects, one in each hand.  Emphasize which object you are labeling by moving your hand (with that object in it) toward the child.  "What do you want honey?  Shoe? (hold up shoe) Ball? (hold up ball)".  If you child imitates the word, great he gets the ball and you give him lots of praise.  "I love when you use your words to tell me what you want.  Great job!"  If you child makes his choice non-verbally (pointing/reaching for ball) then you want to encourage an attempted imitation of the word "ball".  Just like in the example above.."Oh, I see you are pointing to the ball.  You want the ball.  Tell mommy, ball."  No matter what your child says...if he/she makes a sound..."Good job telling Mommy, you want the ball.  Here you go."

3.  Use a Delayed Response:
If you know your child can use the object name, but tends to request non-verbally, you might want to try using a delayed response (pausing for 1-3 seconds) to encourage him/her to use the object name to make his/her request.

Example:  Your child is pointing to that ball again and you know he can say it.  "What do you want? (pause 1-3)."  No response.  "Do you want the (pick an object near where your child is pointing but NOT the object he wants)...train?" (pause)  No response.  "Do you want" (pause).  If your child begins to gesture, pointing/showing you he really wants that ball and says "ball" (or "ba" or whatever production you know he uses for the word ball), you reward him with praise and by giving him the ball.

4.  Using Natural Consequences:
When learning language, children learn to imitate words after adults.  We also need to teach them that each word means a specific object.  We do this by using natural consequences.  You give your child binary choices and he/she imitates the last word he heard (which is NOT the name of the object he wants).  Guess what?  The natural consequence of saying the wrong word will get your child the wrong object.

Example:  Your child wants a snack, goldfish to be precise.  You give him binary choices: "Do you want goldfish or cheese?" (remember to pick a second object you know your child WILL NOT WANT).  Your child says "cheese" just because its the last thing he heard.  "Oh you want cheese!  Ok.  Here is your cheese." (you give him the cheese).  He becomes visibly upset (maybe even throws the food).  "You DO NOT want cheese?  What do you want?  Goldfish or cheese?" (remember to show each object, one in each hand and gesturing when you label each food).  NO MATTER WHAT HIS RESPONSE IS, THIS TIME HE WILL GET THE GOLDFISH.  Why?  Because we want to keep frustration to a minimum! 

Your child will react in one of three ways:  1) non-verbally pointing/reaching (you use the same cues as the previous suggestions, "I see you are pointing to goldfish.  You want goldfish.  Tell mommy, goldfish"),  ( 2) by saying "cheese" again even though he wants goldfish (you say "Honey, I see you are pointing to the goldfish.  You want goldfish"), 3) by correctly requesting "goldfish" (you give your child lots of praise, praise, praise!).

5. Read to your Bunnies:
When I had my son, the hospital gave me a book called "Read to your Bunny", which made me realize that with all the new electronic or sound activated games that we are inundated with, we forget to return the basics sometimes.  Reading is a great way to facilitate language.  You can work on labeling objects or actions just by talking about what you see in pictures.  You can work on asking WH questions, beginning with the most simple ("What is that?", "What is the boy holding?"), to more complex ("Why did the boy do that?", "How does the girl feel?"). 

·    "Reading" is more than just reading the words in books.  Sometimes, the actual book may be too difficult for your "bunny" to understand.  Simplify.  Talk about the pictures. 
·    Books with pictures and without words ARE WORTH "reading".  You and your child can create your own story.
·    Repetitive books give your child predictability and encourages them to participate in the reading process.
·    Rhyming books (nursery rhymes, Dr. Seuss) are GREAT books for facilitating phonological development (speech term for rhyming and various other pre-literacy skills).  They are also predictable and have wonderful intonational patterns (great for auditory processing).
6. Talk to your child:
This may seem like the most ridiculous tip of all but there are several simple techniques you can do when talking with your child that can faiciliate language growth.
·    Simplify, simplify, simplify:  Many times we (as parents and therapists) just talk TOO MUCH.  We use statements that are too complex.  Remember to meet your child where he/she is and don't add any fluff.  Example:  Instead of saying "Go get your shoes and put them on", you can say "Shoes on.", or instead of "Oh, look at that boy riding his bike!", you can say "Boy riding bike!"  (Remember to ONLY simplify when your child is just learning language.  Increase the complexity of your statements as your child's language improves)
·    Self-Talk:  When we talk about what we are doing, seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, etc. we model language for our kids in a way they will not usually hear it.  You are teaching your child how he/she can talk about the things he/she is doing.  Your child doesn't need to be paying attention everytime you do this, but if he/she is in hearing distance than he/she will still be able to benefit from your use of self-talk.  Example: your child is playing in the living room and you are in the kitchen washing dishes you can say things like:  "Hot water.  Add soap.  Scrub, scrub, scrub.  Wash the cup."  Or you are at the grocery store and your child is in the cart:  "Look for apples.  Here they are.  Red.  Round.  Apples in bag.  Apples in cart."  DO NOT EXPECT YOUR CHILD TO REPEAT AFTER YOU...THIS IS JUST FOR HIS "LISTENING PLEASURE"!
·    Parallel-Talk:  When we talk about what our child is doing, it teaches him/her that he/she can talk about what others are doing as well.  Again, your child doesn't have to be paying attention and NO REPETITION IS REQUIRED OR EXPECTED!  Example:  Your daughter is putting her stuffed animals in her bed.  You say "Teddy bear, bed.  Monkey, bed.  Ann puts you in bed.  Animal friends, get in bed!" or your son is playing with cars "Car goes fast.  Down the street.  Johnny drives the car.  Drive too fast!  Crash!"  REMEMBER TO ONLY NARRATE WHAT YOUR CHILD IS ACTUALLY DOING.  DON'T TRY TO GIVE DIRECTIONS OR SUGGESTIONS FOR PLAY.
·    Echo then Expand:  Echoing what your child says then expanding upon those utterances teaches your child how to combine more words to create new and different multi-word combinations.  You can use this technique at various stages of communication not just at the single word level.  REMEMBER YOUR CHILD IS NOT EXPECTED TO REPEAT YOUR EXPANSIONS.  Example:  You child says "Up" and you say "want up", your child says "daddy" and you say "daddy work", your child says "more milk" and you way "want more milk", your child says "baby cry fall" you say "The baby fell and is crying". 
7.  Praise, Praise, Praise:
Probably the most forgotten and IMPORTANT technique is to remember to REINFORCE your child's communication attempts by giving praise.  Remember you catch more flies with honey.  So let's be SWEET to our little lovebugs!!!!  Examples:  "I like how you tried to say that", "I love when I hear your voice."  "Oh my goodness, you said that all by yourself".

In my house be even have a good job song, "Good job (name), good job (name), good job (name), you (the actions/skill he/she did)".  We apparently sing this song quiet often because now my son has started to sing the good job song to Mommy and Daddy when he feels we are doing a good job!  And boy doesn't it feel great to have your child tell you, you are doing a good job!!!!

So there is a list of a few simple ways you can improve upon your communication with your child in order to facilitate more language development!  It takes time to change our communication styles.  So take this slowly.  Don't try to use every technique all at once.  It can be frustrating for you and your child when you change the "rules" of communication suddenly.  I suggest you try one or two techniques and once you feel comfortable, you can try additional techniques.  Good luck and keep up the good work!

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