When Madi was 15 months old, we were at a playground and we met a little girl who was 16 months old. This little girl was speaking at a very advanced level! Meeting this little girl made me worried that Madi’s speech and language development were behind. I began to frantically try to teach Madi new words; but I soon realized that I was over-reacting. Every child develops differently and that Madi was exactly where she needed to be with her speech and language.
How common is speech and language delay in children?
Approximately 10 to 15 percent of two-year-old children have speech and language delay. But the good news is the vast majority of them catch up within the next few years with early intervention!
Only 4 to 5 percent of children remain speech delayed after three years of follow-up.
How can I help my child who is more behind in speech?
There are many ways you can help your child with their speech. It is important to make sure you follow up with your doctor regularly. The good news is that if your little one is behind on speech the odds are they will eventually catch up! There are even ways that you can your child improve their language skills right in your own home.
Speech slowly and enunciate
When speaking to your child in your home, try to speak slowly and succinctly. Try to enunciate as much as you can. It is also helpful to over-emphasize how you move your mouth to make the word sounds so children see what their mouths need to do.
Give your child a play-by-play of what you are doing
Talk out loud as much as possible and describe everything you are doing. The more opportunity your child has to hear you communicate, the more opportunity they have to learn how to communicate!
Label objects as much as you can
When you are spending time with your child try to point out familiar objects in the home, in books, and on TV. It may be boring to you but it could be new to your child! “That’s a lawnmower” or “That’s a bridge”.
Invite your child to repeat back to you the name of the object. Congratulate their efforts every time they make effort to repeat back the name of the object.
Ask open-ended questions to your child, and expand on the conversation
In our busy lives, we often forget to ask open-ended questions to your children! Children all too often have all of their day-to-day decisions made for them. Taking the time to ask open-ended questions to your child, listen to their responses, and encourage them to speak out more will not only help support your child’s speech but also their self-esteem.
When your child starts a conversation, try to help them keep the conversation going and expand on each topic they bring up. This will invite them to keep learning, and will help develop their speech and language.
Read books to your child and eventually have your child read books to you
Try to sit down and read a few short stories. As your child’s speech and language abilities grow, begin to have your child read the books back to you! When they slip up or make a mistake, gently correct them.
If your child says something incorrect, help them correct it in a positive and supportive way
Try not to talk down to your child if they mispronounce something or have difficulty learning a new word. Instead, rephrase, repeat, and re-label until your child is able to understand.
Replace evening television time with book reading
Screen time before bed has been show to have poor impact on sleep (on special occasions we break this rule and have movie nights). Instead use this time to wind down with a fun book. This is a great way to incorporate speech and language learning into your child’s bedtime routine.
Go to the library regularly!
Studies show that children’s language skills are greatly enhanced with reading books. If possible, visit the library regularly and encourage your child to take out as many books as they like! You can even use positive reinforcement every time your child completes a book.
Repetition, repetition, repetition
It takes everybody time to learn something new. I always try to imagine if it was ME trying to learn a new language that it would take me forever. With your child, repeat – repeat – repeat.
Use positive reinforcement
When your child does well – is able to say a whole sentence, is able to say a new word, or communicate more effectively – make sure to make a great deal about this and congratulate them!
There are some red flag milestones that are important to be aware of regarding speech that may suggest your child needs extra support or a medical evaluation. The good news is that most children develop language in their own time and in their own ways. Most children who are delayed in speech do catch up eventually, but some children require additional support. Never hesitate to see your family doctor or pediatrician if you are concerned about your child’s development.
This post was co-authored by Erin Manchuk, BScPharm, BCGP and Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc.