If you have a 2 or 3 year old child that is barely saying any words, it’s time to think about increasing his or her need to communicate. There are many ways to do this, but first and foremost, as a parent you need to try real hard not to anticipate your child’s needs. You need to think of ways to create opportunities for your child to absolutely need to communicate. If your child’s wants and needs are always anticipated by you or if your child as an older sibling that talks for him, then he won’t ever have the need to communicate for himself.
Your child has to learn that in order to get what he wants, he needs to communicate these wants to the adults around him. By not anticipating his needs , your child will gradually learn the power of using words to get what he wants - the power of communication!
Here are a few examples by Helene Goldnadel that you can easily implement throughout your day.
- If you know your child wants more milk but instead of attempting to say anything, he simply grunts or whines or hands you his cup - this is a great opportunity to withhold that milk until he attempts to say the word “milk”. You don’t want to be mean about it and say “sorry - no milk until you say the word “milk”. Instead, you want to be loving and gentle and say something like “oh, you want milk” - (while showing him his cup). Say the word “milk”, maybe even over-exaggerating it a little. Point to your mouth while you say it and ask him to say it too, by saying “now you say it”. And it’s important to reward him for the slightest attempt - it doesn’t need to be said perfectly. By doing this you’re letting him know that his attempt at saying the word will get him what he wants.
- If your child looks like he needs help with something, don’t automatically help him. Model the word “help” and encourage him to say it after you. And again, be quick to reward him for the slightest attempt to imitate you.
- When he’s eating something he really likes - like a yummy treat - just give him part of it so that you create an opportunity for him to have to ask for “more”. He will quickly figure out that he has to attempt something - the “m” sound, or a closer attempt at “more” or even an attempt at signing “more”. You need to model for him and show him what you’re wanting from him. Have him look at your mouth while you say the word “more” or use the sign and help him to use the sign.
- As much as it’s appropriate, give your child choices (2 choices). You can do this with snack time, play time and even when it’s time to get dressed. After he’s clearly made his choice by gesturing or pointing, again, model the correct and encourage him to say it too before letting him have it.
If your child is already using single words, but not 2-word utterances, you can use these same techniques to model and encourage those 2-word utterances. Instead of giving him more milk when he says “more” or “milk”, model the two word combination “more milk” and encourage him to attempt to imitate both words together. Little kids often really take to a sing-song tone and might more easily imitate if you model the two word phrase in this way.
Stimulating your child’s language development should be fun, not frustrating. If these tactics don’t seem to be working or are getting the both of you too frustrated, Helene Goldnadel suggests you to consult a speech-language pathologist or schedule a speech-language evaluation.