Learning to talk and express themselves is one of the most critical skills that children will develop. As parents we can help them develop this critical skill.
Here are some tips on what we can do to help children between the ages of 2 and 4 years (preschoolers) talk:
- Teach your child the alphabet song "A B C D E F G ...."
- Speak in simple sentences which address one thought at a time. For example, instead of "Throw me the ball and I will throw it back to you", say "Throw me the ball". Make it clear to them. Our children's brains are growing and they find it easier to understand sentences with simpler messages. As they grow older, they can easily follow complex sentences with multiple messages.
- Acknowledge when they speak by looking at them and nod your head. Keep the eye contact. This is a critical social skill. If we want our children to pay attention to what we say, we must pay attention to what they say also. This is also important for them to develop good relationships.
- Do not interrupt your child when he is speaking. Even if he is searching for a word, let him try a few times before you jump in to finish the sentence off.
- Speak after your child has finished speaking. Keep your response short and then pause after it. A pause gives him an opportunity to converse more.
- Do not tell them to stop asking questions. Help them find the answers themselves and guide them along. Discovering things for themselves teaches children a lot about how learning happens.
- When you speak, your child will often hear new words. She may interrupt you to ask the meaning of the word. Be responsive. Explain to her what the word means and show her how it is used. This will help her add to her vocabulary.
- Children often have trouble understanding descriptive words like - always, never, first, last, big, small etc. You may have to explain it repeatedly. Books which help them visualise these words also help.
- Draw pictures to explain complex situations to them. For example, my older one asked me about car races and I drew a picture to explain why car racing tracks are generally circular
- Let your children occasionally finish a sentence for you. For example, you say "Let's brush our teeth with...." and let them say "Toothpaste". When you say "with", use a dragging tone so it sounds like "wiiiiitttthhhh". Also use a hand gesture and look at them when you say this. Your children will respond and say "toothbrush" or "toothpaste" or something else that maybe funny. Younger children who have just learnt some words love to showoff their vocabulary. So be sure to pick words they already know.
- When they draw something, ask them to explain what they have drawn.
- When your child starts speaking longer strings of words, practice active listening. If they say "I want to go to the bathroom. Please turn the light on". Say "OK, I will turn the light on so you can go to the bathroom". Then do the action. This acknowledges that you listened to what he said, and understood it fully. This gives him confidence in his verbal abilities.
- Often we ask the question "What is this" and point at an object. If the child does not recognise it, don't worry. Its an opportunity have a longer conversation. Help her by giving clues. Start by asking "Shall I give you a clue?" and then continue.
- When reading a book with pictures and illustrations, don't use only the words written on the page. Use your own words to describe the scene that is drawn. Talk about characters in the background, activities in the background, nature, birds etc.
- Play the "I Spy" game with your children. Use a story book with lots of well drawn everyday scenes. Find an object (say, a plane) on the page and say "I spy a plane" and let her find it. If she mis-identifies it, tell her what the object she pointed to was. If she pointed to a bird instead of plane, say "That's a bird. That also flies. A plane is like a bird and has wings but it is much bigger. Can you find something that looks like a bird but is bigger and has engines?". Kids love this game.
Different children develop verbal abilities at different times. Every child is unique. Verbal development cannot be forced. These tips can help them develop this skill by providing an enabling environment. If you feel that your child is falling behind in verbal development, talk to your paediatrician. Sometimes, delayed verbal skill development may point to a different problem.