9 easy ways to encourage your child’s language skills

by Hilary Davis | Mar 29, 2016

Communication is a powerful tool. Once your child catches on to that, life can change dramatically for them, and for you.

Little tricks often help get most non-verbal children to start communicating. A child will learn quickly that when they say “out” they can go outside but if they stand by the door and cry, nothing happens. Being quick with your reinforcement is important for your child to make the connection easily between their communication and the outcome. If you are teaching your child to request “more” be sure to have the item they want (cookie, peg, bubbles) ready to put in their little hands right away. When your child points or grunts, act like you don’t understand what it is they want. Model an appropriate way to make the request, whether using a word, words or sign. Be patient and loving. When you teach your child the power of communication, they will begin to realize the impact communicating has on their ability to have their wants/needs met effectively. They will gain confidence that will encourage the continued process of language development.

  1. Blow bubbles then screw the lid on tightly and hand it back to your child for their turn or use other toys that are challenging for a child to use on their own. When they want a turn, wait for them to request help. If needed, model the word “help” or the sign for “help” to open the bubbles or operate a toy. If you are blowing the bubbles for them, wait for them to say or imitate “bubble” or “more” before continuing to shower them in bubbles.
  2. Limit your child’s access to things like toys, food, t.v. and going outside. Manipulate things so they have to ask for help or make a request to get their toys, a snack or to play outside. Accomplish this by putting toys up high or locking cabinets.
  3. At snack and meal times, give your child bite-size portions, rather than filling their plate with a whole serving of food. Wait for them to request more. If needed, model and/or sign the word “more”, or try and get them to produce an /m/ sound for them to imitate. Comment on how yummy the food is.
  4. Eat something your child loves in their presence without offering them some. When your child sees you eating what they like and indicates they want some, model a more communicative way for them to make their request. You may use a sign, a word, or a simple phrase. When your child points, whines or reaches for what they want to eat, you can say “eat” or “cookie.” Wait and see if they try and imitate the word or even the first consonant of the word. If they keep pointing and whining take their hand and help them make the sign for “eat” or “more” or “cookie.”
  5. Spend time each day just playing with your child. Uninterrupted playtime does not have to be long to be effective. Turn off the TV, put the iPad away and pull out a toy, puzzle, or game. Use simple words with them like “Car go”, “Blue ball”, “Feed baby”, “Go down”, “Ready, set, go….” This will give lots of time to model language and makes it easy to encourage imitation. If your child loves playing with play dough you can model the /p/ sound for “play” or you can model the signs for play and please. If your child already says single words, model a two-word phrase. It is important to also work on nouns and verbs to form functional vocabulary.
  6. Read to your child. Don’t feel like you have to read a book word for word. You can just turn the pages and talk about what is happening in the book. Have your child label animals and other objects. Simple books with rhyming patterns or repetitive text are great for small children to encourage imitation.
  7. Play turn-taking games like blowing bubbles and pushing a car or a ball back and forth. This will give you an opportunity to model language and then wait out returning the car or ball, or blowing more bubbles until they make a verbal request or sign. You can always prompt them to say “more”, “ball”, “car”, “bubble” or even produce an initial sound or sign.
  8. Get out your drinking straws. Teaching your child to drink from a straw is a great way to strengthen the muscles of your child’s mouth. Get out some cotton balls and place them on one end of the table. Have your child try to blow the cotton balls across the table to you. You can make a game out of blowing back and forth. Don’t limit drinking through a straw to only liquids. Change it up and drink other textures (pudding, applesauce, yogurt, shakes, smoothies) through a straw to work those muscles. Pick up some fun silly straws for your child to drink with. They take a little more effort and muscular strength than the average straw and, more importantly, kids love to watch the liquid move around the curls and waves in the straws.
  9. Teach your little one some sign language. Teaching your child signs will not slow down their talking, but rather give them another communication tool while their verbal language is developing. Gesture is part of our everyday communication and it accompanies our spoken language throughout the day. Singing gestural songs (think, Itsy Bitsy Spider, Wheels on the Bus, If You’re Happy and You know It) taps into the natural rhythm of music, and creates an interactive, engaging and imitative opportunity for your child. Teaching them early signs and combining them with the words when you are interacting with them provides a visual as well as an auditory input that they can quickly pick up on and will often use, even if talking is slow coming for them. Start basic – more, eat, all done, book, please, thank you, baby, play- you will be amazed how quickly they pick them up.