Talking Tips for the Late Talking Toddler

What do Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill have in common?

Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill were both late talkers. In fact, some say Einstein did not utter his first words until he was three.

‘Late talkers’ is a hot topic with mothers in the playground which is not surprising when they account for 15% of the toddler population!

Most well-meaning friends provide reassuring conclusions about:  how everyone develops at their own rate; a successful family member who didn’t talk till they were 5; they’re just ‘shy’; or a reference to a world famous late talker of genius status like ‘Albert Einstein’… and they were more than fine!

Your child might be like Einstein but just in case they aren’t… Tonight’s blog post provides parents with some practical tweaks to the way they communicate which will provide your child with the best platform for learning to talk.

What we do know about late talkers is that, by no means, are they all going to grow into a legend of genius status.

We know that 50% of children who are late talkers catch up to their peers but the other 50% will have some form of speech and language difficulty.

It is very difficult to identify which path which child will take. The typical hallmark characteristic of a ‘late talker’ is a limited spoken vocabulary (usually less than 50 words) at two years of age in addition to limited two word combinations.  The term ‘late talker’ means that the child will typically have an absence of difficulties in the areas of comprehension, play, motor skills, cognition, hearing or social skills.

So what can we do as parents?

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Well, firstly there is the very important job of ensuring your child’s overall development (especially hearing) is checked out by a health professional and please be very wary of doctors who tell you to just ‘wait and see’. Secondly, here are 5 talking tips for ALL children but especially important for the ‘late talking toddler’. And yes parents, you can ‘try these at home’:

1. Wait like you’re waiting

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Communication is a two-way street.  Many adults will ‘fill the silence’ with lots of talk hoping that “lots of input must equal lots of output”. Unfortunately, it’s not always quite that simple!

Children need obvious cues to ‘teach’ them to take a turn in the conversational pendulum. A long pause (of at least 5 seconds) is a good start but must be accompanied by being at your child’s level, giving eye contact AND an expectant facial expression.

These tips seem bleedingly obvious but when your child is barely saying ‘boo’, our natural reaction is to fill the silence.  Fight this urge!

2. Play the copying game

Ever heard the numbers 55/38/7?  It comes from Mehrabian who studied communication and believed it is made up of this ration:  55% body language, 38% tone of voice and only 7% accounts for the actual words. Obviously this depends on the circumstances of the message but it highlights the importance of nonverbal communication.

So yes, imitate the words your child can say but don’t forget to imitate actions like jumping or sounds and vocalisations too.

This teaches your child to imitate but also keeps the back and forth of conversation continuing.

3. Sabotage for speech

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Just as “Invention was born out of necessity” so too is communication.  For dedicated, loving parents, this notion of not preempting your child’s every need is a difficult one.

However responding to their needs, wants and interests BEFORE they have a chance to spontaneously communicate, can be detrimental to your child’s development.

As a parent, one of the best ways to help your child learn to talk is to create opportunities for them to do so.  If you know they like a straw with their cup, wait till they tell you (maybe not with words but however they can); or if you are in need of a chuckle, do the ‘wrong’ thing – give their dinner to their doll or give the wrong utensil.  Your child will probably find your stupidity amusing too but remember to wait till they initiate a conversation about this.

4. Say less and say it again

Many modern day parents are under the impression that the best way to talk to their children is by treating them as equals and speaking to them just like an adult.  One should never underestimate their intelligence and by no means use the dreaded ‘baby talk’.  They are right and wrong!  Check out our blog on babytalk for more information on that topic!  https://wordpress.com/post/littlebirdiebooks.com.au/660

Basically the way we should talk with our children depends on their stage of communication development.  If they are intentionally communicating but not yet using first words, then it is extremely important to simplify your language to shorter phrases and to repeat key words!

We still use grammatically correct sentences and the key words we repeat are ones we hope they will copy. So yes, there is no need for “goo goo ga ga” but even saying things slowly and stressing the key words can also help your little ones say their first words.

5. Be their interpreter

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As your child goes about his or her day, be like David Attenborough and describe, interpret or comment on the behaviour of these “strange creatures” known as toddlers!

When they walk towards a bird, look or point at the ‘Ibis or bin chicken’ that plagues our Brisbane playgrounds, say “Oh yes I can see that IBIS eating some rubbish.  The IBIS is using his long beak.  Shoo IBIS! Bye bye IBIS!”

In that short but natural interpretation of your child’s nonverbal attempt, your child clearly heard the word IBIS 4 times!  For more ideas on supporting your child’s language development check out our ‘Little Sponges’ blog at https://littlebirdiebooks.com.au/2018/01/11/little-sponges/

So rather than being that parent who talks about how they are concerned that their child is a late talker but sits idle for fear of being labelled a ‘paranoid parent’ or worse have their child ‘labelled’ as less than perfect, perhaps it would make more sense to be a ‘proactive parent’.

Have your child’s hearing checked; see a GP or visit a speech pathologist and voice your concerns; and last but not least, practise tweaking your communication style with your child to provide the best case scenario for them to learn to talk. Good luck Mums and Dads!  I am quickly learning that being a parent is ‘much easier said than done’.

Thanks for hearing our call,
Your Little Birdies
Janice and Tania

References:

  • Language Disorders from Infancy through Adolescence: Assessment and Intervention (3rd ed.) by Rhea Paul, 2007.
  • Weitzman, Elaine. (2017). It Takes Two to Talk: 5th edition. The Hanen Centre: Toronto.

 

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