A lovely Mum I know asked me about her son’s language development today. What she described wasn’t too concerning, so I gave her a few tips, one of which was ‘Don’t ask him to say words’.
‘Why not?’ she replied. And indeed, this is a VERY good question! So thank you to this Mum for asking me, and inspiring me to write this post.
“Say ‘car’” “Say ‘doggy’” – we have all done it, haven’t we? Sometimes we say it even when we know our child can say it…we just like to hear them do it, especially when other people are around! But other times we say it because we want them to say it – because they aren’t speaking much yet, and because we are a bit worried. We want them to talk.
So why do I suggest that you don’t?
Well, firstly, it puts pressure on the child to say something that they may not actually be able to say yet. A child needs to hear a word multiple times before they start to use it. In that time they are building up their understanding of that word, and linking it to an object, or an action, or a feeling. Until they have this understanding in place, they are unlikely to use it, even when asked to do so.
Secondly, it can cause a child frustration. If they are enjoying a toy or an activity, or outside exploring, or even watching their favourite show, they are immersed in learning and developing, and they often won’t respond if they are asked to say a specific word. Instead, you could try to join them and comment on what they are doing or seeing. It shows interest without creating pressure, and often a child will copy back words they hear in this relaxed environment.
Remember – children are like sponges when they are little – they watch and listen and absorb. This is how they learn language, and they have an amazing capacity to learn through listening. It is this process that gets children talking in a natural, organic way – not responding to requests to speak.
So why not try the following swaps:
When playing with the farm animals, instead of “Say horsie”, watch what your child does and comment on it. “Horsie! Neigh”. Repeat as many times as you like to give your child lots of chances to hear the word.
When leaving someone’s house instead of “Say bye”, crouch down to your child’s level, and model the action and the word – wave, and say “Byebye”.
When giving your child a snack, instead of “Say thank you”, just model the response you would like to hear – “Thank you Mummy”