Some friends recently came to me to ask about how to teach a language (in this case English) to their 2- year olds. Interesting, I thought, especially as my 20- month old still doesn’t really speak very much- he hums his way through a lot of songs, but words aren’t his forté. However, as he has plenty of friends who are speaking quite a lot, I started to think of ways that I could “tempt” him to speak. We all need a little encouragement from time to time… maybe some of these will work (without being too cruel to be kind):
– Eat something your child loves but don’t offer them any. When your child shows that they would like some, model a more advanced way for them to make the request, whether it is using a sign, a word or a simple phrase. For example, if your child points and grunts to the biscuit, model the sign for biscuit, then wait and see if your child will imitate the sign. If your child simply keeps pointing and grunting take his hand and help him make the sign for biscuit then reward him with the biscuit.
– Play with something your child loves but don’t offer to share.
For instance if your child loves playing with Lego or play-dough and wants to join in, you could model the signs for please or play, or model the /p/ sound for “please” or “play,”. If your child can already say one word model a two word phrase for him to imitate like, “play please.” How about blowing bubbles then screwing the lid on tightly. Hand it back to your child for their turn, then wait for him to request help with a a sign or a word. Model the sign or word if necessary.
– Play turn-taking games such as rolling the ball back and forth, or pushing a car back and forth. Once your child expects another turn hold the car or ball and wait. Look at him expectantly if no sign or verbal request is made, model an appropriate request such as the sign for “ball,” the /b/ sound, the word “ball” or “ball please”…
– Limit your child’s access to things like the t.v., toys, food, or going outside. Set it up so he has to make a request or ask for help to access these things. You may accomplish this by putting favorite things up high or locked up. You can encourage the word or sign for “please”, or link the word for the toy/ food to “please” to encourage them to say a little more.
– At meal times and snack time give your child bite- size portions, rather than dishing up a whole serving for them, then wait for them to request more. Again encourage them to build on what they can already do: if no attempt is made model the sign “more,” help them make the sign, or model the /m/ sound for them to imitate. If they can say “please” already, encourage them to say “more please”.
– Use tight containers to store things in. When your child indicates he wants a cookie you might hand him the cookie jar (tightly sealed of course), when he can’t open it and hands it back to you make him sign “open” or “help”.
– Use wind up toys or other toys that are difficult for kids to operate on their own. Wind up a wind-up toy your child gets a kick out of then hand it to them when they want a turn, wait for them to request help by using the sign or the word to operate the toy.
Using these little tricks that require your child to sign or speak will teach your child the power of communication. They will learn very quickly that when they sign or say “out” they can go outside but if they simply cry by the door nothing happens. It is important to be quick with your reinforcement so your child will make the connection easily, for example if you are teaching your child to request “more cookie” be sure to have that cookie ready to put in their little hands right away. When your child points and grunts, or throws a tantrum, pay no attention at all, or be sure to explain that you don’t understand what they want even when you do. Then model an appropriate way to make the request.
Little actions like these have helped to get most non-verbal children to start communicating. And of course these things need to be done with patience and in a happy environment. When your child sees that he can communicate his wants and needs effectively, it will give him added confidence that will help him in the continuing process of language development. The secret to success is consistency, paired with repetition and praise. Practice, practice, practice and tons of patience will pay off.