Slow to speak, slow to walk, reluctant to write…
And that’s just my son! OK, I’m exaggerating here- I mean he’s only 3, so the lack of ability at writing is acceptable! (I am joking, BTW!) Each child has it’s own clock, set to it’s own time, and nothing (much) that we can do will change this. However, that doesn’t stop our internal discussions with ourselves, wondering when the next milestone will be reached.
I’m as guilty of this as the next Mum- with two children it’s impossible not to ask the million questions like: “Wasn’t Gen singing ’round and round the garden’ by now? What’s wrong with Sam? Is he EVER going to get there?!”
It’s the waiting game that’s so hard. Although we all know that we shouldn’t be pushing our children beyond their limitations, the sigh of relief when they do finally manage to do what their peers have been winging for months is huge. And it doesn’t help when there are often comparisons from other parents on Facebook etc- posting pictures of their little wonder typing on the pad, singing etc… reinforcing our fears that our darlings are delayed in some way.
Late language development is the most common delay, affecting 1 in 10 children. Communicating is a complicated process, requiring mental coordination, patience and time. Remember language classes at school? Well, even if a young child is able to assimilate a language much more easily than adults or older children, there is still a huge process for them to go through. Kids will often take the easy route by using signals- nodding and shaking the head, pointing or pulling you towards a desired object, even stamping their foot. While these aren’t the really desired response, they’re a good sign that your child is understanding what’s going on around him, and learning how to indicate what he wants.
After your child’s first birthday it’s time to ask yourself a few questions. Can he follow simple directions, such as “Bring me the book”? Is he attempting to walk (by 15 months)? Can he feed himself finger foods? Did he say his first word (by 16 months)? Does he make eye contact when you speak to him? Can he imitate basic tasks, like holding a phone to his ear?
If your child has reached 2 years and still doesn’t have much to say, think about whether you’re actually giving him the chance to speak. Often it’s easier and quicker to guess what the child wants, rather than encouraging them to speak the words themselves. You may realise that you and your family are doing the speaking for the little one- my daughter especially is guilty of this, talking to her brother and then filling in the gaps when he doesn’t respond quickly enough for her. Giving them visual cues, like holding up an apple on one hand and a banana in the other allows your child to just point, so try instead to ask what they want, and wait for the word to pop out.
Although your child may be slow with language development, he or she should still be doing new things with language at least every month. New words may be added, or the same words may be used for different purposes. For example, “toy” may one day mean “That is my toy,” the next, “I want my toy,” and the following week, “Where is my toy? I don’t see it.” Words may be combined into brief utterances (“want toy” “no toy”), or such longer utterances may start to occur more often.
A key thing to help your child is to keep talking throughout the day. A narrative of what you’re doing helps input more words, and building the vocabulary in this way will have positive results in the long run, when you hear some random word you said maybe once a week ago being tested in your child’s mouth (for my daughter it was “dainty”!) It’s also a good idea to label objects for your child. When you’re out shopping together say, for example, “Yellow banana” and point it out to her, or even better pass it to her to hold, as many children are attracted by the feel of things, and will create word associations better in this way. Doing this and other verbal activities, such as reading books and singing songs like “The Hokey-Pokey,” exposes her to new words and teaches her that things have names. If all else fails, pretend not to get what her gestures mean at first, pushing her to express herself using words. Say, “I don’t understand. Do you want the apple?”
There’s a lovely book related to this subject, which might help you and your child to understand and accept the situation a little better. “Leo the Late Bloomer” (https://www.harpercollins.com/9780878070428/leo-the-late-bloomer) is a very sweet book. Leo the lion is not developing at the same rate as many of his friends. He is not able to read, write, draw or speak yet. Leo’s father is concerned about this, but his mother assures him that Leo will bloom in his own time. It is a great way to expose children to the idea that sometimes they may not be able to do everything that their friends can do and that’s okay. It is a great way to build their confidence in themselves.
“There’s a wide age range for hitting many milestones, and it’s completely normal for children to have differences in abilities, motivation, and pace,” says Anatoly Belilovsky, M.D., a pediatrician from New York. “Parents should remind themselves that raising kids isn’t a competitive sport.”
Just remember that however late your child is at picking up some skills, he’s in good company. Van Gogh didn’t start painting until he was in his late 20s, Julia Child didn’t learn to cook until she was 40, and Harrison Ford didn’t get his big break in movies until he starred in “Star Wars” at 35. There’s hope for my boy yet!