Modeling and Expanding Language in Toddlers and Preschoolers

A large part of my job entails some sort of parent training.  Many parents are “speech-language pathologists” in the making, they just don’t know it.  All parents are their child’s teacher and coach, and with a little guidance from a skilled clinician, can learn what to look for when working with their child.

Today I’m writing about toddlers and preschoolers who are slow to develop language.  (Click Speech and Language Milestones for a list.)  I’ve written before about waiting and listening to your child to give them enough time to communicate.  Five seconds of wait time is the unwritten rule when waiting for your child to respond, which can seem like an ETERNITY when you are trying to get out the door.  (Click here for that post: Walkie Talkie)

The type of language you use can have a large impact on your child’s understanding and use of language.  Using language that is directly related to what your child is doing can enhance your child’s understanding of the message.

1. Simplify your language.  Use language that is slightly more complex than your child uses.

2.  Speak slowly.  As adults, we tend to speak too fast for our little munchkins.  Slow it down.

3. Stress important words.

4. Be repetitive.  As I wrote about before, routines are one of the best ways to use the same language over and over.

5. Gesture.  Point to what you are talking about.  Hold the toy up by your mouth and reference it with your eyes.

6. Use a variety of words.  When you’re helping your child express herself, it’s natural to tell her the names of things.  Besides names, however, include words that describe (soft, big, all gone), action words (sleep, eat, hug), words for feelings (happy, sad, tired), location words (up, down, under), social words (night-night, bye-bye), words that express belonging (my, Mommy’s), and question words (what, where).

It is important to feel comfortable and knowledgeable when communicating with your child, even if they are experiencing delays.  Many speech-language pathologists who work with children specialize in parent training as part of their intervention.  Early intervention programs, such as the Hanen “It Takes Two to Talk” are available for parents who want to hone their “speech-language-pathologist-in-training” skills.  Your child’s pediatrician should know a few clinics to point you in the right direction, as well.  The American Speech and Hearing Association ( has links to clinicians and programs across the country.  It is a great place to start if you are looking for more information!

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