Puppies are perfect for building language!

If you have a small child, one way to support language development is to expand on what they are saying.

The other day we were out walking and I watched a small child (about 18 months) get enthralled by a small dog. He was saying to his family “puppy, puppy” and pointing. Their response was ‘yeah’. He said it again “puppy, puppy” and again “yeah”.

Now I have been there. When you have four kids there is always someone telling you something and you can be a little like “yeppity-yep” and your mind is a million miles away. But they weren’t distracted they were also watching the puppy. They were completely responding to their little one, which was wonderful to observe.

But, the speech pathologist in me sees this moment in time as a golden nugget. These are the moments were you can build your child from one word to two words.

If you are wanting to build your young child’s language. There is no better way than to expand on what they are already saying to you.

Using the above example, to build him from one word to two word phrases the conversation could have gone down like this:
Child: “puppy, puppy” (he was pointing too)
Adult: “Puppy, puppy rolling, puppy rolling on his back, puppy rolling”
Child: “puppy, puppy”
Adult: “gorgeous puppy”

So in this example, you are following his lead, you are adding language and you are engaged in what the researchers call ‘serve and return’ which is great for building brains and language!

Let’s say he was not saying the word ‘puppy’ but he was pointing (he was doing both).
Then you could say:
Child: pointing at puppy (with or without vocalization)
Adult: puppy, puppy, puppy rolling
Child: points to puppy again
Adult: puppy, funny puppy, puppy

So you don’t need anything fancy and special to build language in your children. Just keep an eye out for these golden moments when they are really wanting to share information with you. And build them up from there.

If you are wondering what age to expect your child to start combining words into sentences, I have compiled the typical milestones for communication development from birth to four years, with some tips to build your child’s language at each stage. You can get a copy of it here.


Routines – The Perfect Tool for Developing Language

I remember when my children were little and everyone would talk about routines. To be honest, I kind of heard blah..blah..blah.. as I am not a routine person. I like flexibility and I seem to really like change and as such when people would say you need routine. My brain would freeze a little. It seemed to mean when they slept, when they ate. So routine was a word that I did not really like.

However, as they got older and as I had more kids and as I cared less about what I ‘should’ do and more about what they needed from me I started to realise that there are routines all throughout the day. Most of them are a really positive experience. They are predictable, they are repetitive and they are perfect for building language.

Take for instance, changing a nappy. You are always going to lie them somewhere safe, often in the same spot. You will always take off an old and possibly very creative nappy that there may be a LOT to talk about, then you will clean them down and replace with a clean nappy and then you are finished. So each step of this you can be adding language, the same language every. single. time.

Your child gets to hear these words time and time again. Repetition is important to learning language. So routines provide a great place to build language.

If you think across your day you will spot routines, where building language is perfect. Common ones include:
• Nappy changing;
• Book reading;
• Pushing on a swing;
• Eating meals;
• Having a bath;
• Getting dressed.

So after a rocky start with the word ‘routine’, I now find myself encouraging parents to look for the routines that they have in their day and then use these to build language and connection with their young children.

A routine we did have that mostly I loved was reading to them before bed. Some nights were rough when I was really exhausted. I remember one night reading to my youngest and at the end of the book she noted that I had not read the words at all and as it had transpired I had debriefed my whole day at work to her whilst turning the pages! This routine has morphed over the years but that time before bed still remains a time for talking and connecting with each of my children.

As example, of how you can use routines – say you have an 18 month and they are not using words. But they love swinging. Then after you put them in ….. wait a bit…..with anticipation… then say “go”….(and push them)….then stop the swing and hold it….wait some more….also with anticipation…then say “go”…”go”…. (then push them)… Keep doing this. They will learn the word ‘go’. The routine becomes that before you release them for the swing, you say the word ‘go’. At first you model it all the time but they will soon join in.

Have fun with it!

If you are keen to know more about what to expect with language development then you can head here for typical milestones from birth to four years.

Is swapping sounds normal??

Parents are often concerned when their child is swapping sounds in words and I often get asked what sounds to expect at what age?

It is a good question.

I do think though one of the funniest things as a parent can be how our kids say words. I remember when I was a young child watching my cousin hold the floor and he would have been about 2 years of age. Not a word that he said made any sense at all. But he was telling us a story, I am quite sure with jokes. I suspect this experience was part of the reason I choose to become a Speech Pathologist. It was hilarious!

I love having conversations with little people and holding a straight face!

But in response to the question, the short answer is:
As a rule of thumb. 3 year old children should be understood by those close to them. Most of what they say (75%) is likely to be understood by people who are not close to them. By 4 years of age, everybody should be understanding everything. This does not mean that their talking is 100% the same as an adult it is just intelligible and can be understood.

Speech Pathologists look at if the child can actually say the sound, this is called articulation. By 5 they should be able to actually say all sounds, some children may still have difficulties with r, v and th but all the others they should be able to produce.

We also look at how they are putting the sounds into words. Some children will be able to say all the sounds, but when they combine them into words they change them. This is known as phonology. It is very common for a 2 ½ year old child to say ‘tar’ for car (this is known as ‘fronting’), or to say ‘bu’ for bus (final consonant deletion). It is not for a four year old.

If you are looking for more detailed information about typical speech and language milestones in the first four years and how to help your children’s language development  then I have created this resource and you will find it here.

If you are worried I would encourage you to seek help.

Also, have their hearing checked. Especially if regular middle ear infections are something your child is experiencing.

Some common myths…about early communication development

I often hear families share that when they express concerns to their GP, Peadiatrician, Grandparent or friend a common response is the ‘wait and see’ approach. Often well-meaning and possibly sometimes spot on. The reasons though are often – “he is a boy and they are later to talk” or “she has a lot of siblings.” Just to focus on these as reasons for a moment.

It is a myth that second and third born children are late to talk as their siblings are talking for them. Several studies have shown that language development and skills of first born and later born siblings are similar. One study has shown that first born may reach the 50 word milestone earlier but once children had reached that milestone there was no further difference. But then another study shows that later born children may in fact be superior in some areas. So whilst older siblings may interrupt younger ones there is no evidence to suggest that it causes language difficulties.

Another common reason for the wait and see approach is the claim that ‘he is a boy’ and there is truth to the fact that boys produce their first words and sentences later than girls. However, they are not late talkers. Girls just tend to be on the earlier end of the continuum and boys on the later. Boys are not delayed in their language development.

My personal experiences with my two boys and two girls, was that my boys learnt to talk easily and earlier than the girls. Both the girls had some speech sound difficulties. Neither of the boys did. I think my eldest was not so good at multitasking and as a 17 year old I can see this to be truth. When he was learning to talk, he stumbled a lot with his walking and once he hit two word phrases he was up and walking around again. We got a little worried and started taking him to specialists. But in the end I think his brain was directing so much to learning to talk that other areas were just ignored for a bit (not a medical opinion only a mothers).

So if you are concerned then I think it is right to talk to people and seek advice.

I have created a resource for parents looking for information regarding typical milestones for language development as well as some tips to try if you want to! You can get it here.