Encouraging Your Child’s Self-Expression

Do you recognize the scenario of a child who seems to know countless words but rarely uses them? Children often grasp a broad vocabulary and might occasionally repeat words or spontaneously utter them, like “ball” during a game or “doggy” when their furry friend appears. However, parents may start to worry about their child’s language development when they notice that these words rarely come together in phrases for various purposes, such as making requests (“I want the ball!”), commenting (“Nice doggy!”), or expressing disagreement (“No bedtime!”).

So, how can we help our kids start using the words they know to express their desires, needs, and ideas and combine them into longer sentences? As adults, we can employ language stimulation strategies while interacting with our children. Suppose you’re concerned that this might sound too academic and boring, fear not. In that case, these strategies are entertaining and compelling, enhancing your interactions with your child and creating an ideal language-learning environment.

What Are Language Stimulation Strategies?

Language stimulation strategies are practical ways to interact with children that boost their language comprehension and usage. Sometimes, they involve modifying the physical environment to create more language opportunities, while other times, they require changing how you use words when communicating with your child. The exciting part is that these strategies work best when playing with your child or during daily routines like bath time, mealtime, bedtime, or the drive to daycare – so many chances for language enrichment!

Now, let’s explore three language stimulation strategies to help your child become more expressive, along with some examples of how to implement them.

Strategy 1: Offer Choices

Even if you already know what your child wants, give them options so they can practice making requests and using their vocabulary. For instance, if your child always craves Goldfish crackers for a snack, offer them a choice between two food items while showing each one (e.g., “Do you want crackers or carrots?”). Similarly, if they have a favorite book for bedtime, like “Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See,” and they only read “If You Give a Pig a Pancake” in the morning, still present them with a choice between both books (e.g., “Do you want the bear book or the pig book?”).

This strategy not only exposes your child to different word labels but also allows them to use these words to express their desires immediately. It also encourages them to use gestures, like pointing at their choice.

Tip: Initially, accept any form of choosing, such as gazing, pointing, or reaching for the choice. Model the word to help your child learn it, and with consistency, you’ll see your child using those words, too!

Strategy 2: Embrace Sabotage

Imagine being at a restaurant, awaiting a slice of chocolate cake, only to realize you don’t have any silverware. What do you do next? It would help if you asked the waiter for a fork. By deliberately creating situations where things don’t go as expected (sabotage), we can help our children start talking.

Here are a few ways to use this strategy:

  • “No, not that one!”: When your child wants to play with a specific toy, hand them a different one. When they push it away, use this opportunity to model gestures (like shaking your head “no”), single words (“No no no!”), or short phrases (e.g., “I don’t want the doll!” and “I want the ball!”).
  • “I can’t reach it!”: Place their favorite toy out of their reach and let them ask for help. Use this as a chance to model gestures, single words (e.g., “Train!” or “Help!”), and short phrases (e.g., “I want the train!” or “I need help!”) to show them they can use words to get what they want.
  • “I can’t open it!”: Offer snacks that are challenging to open. When they struggle, use the opportunity to model single words (e.g., “Help!” or “Open!”) and short phrases (e.g., “I want more” or “I need help!”) to demonstrate that they can use words to get what they want.

Tip: To encourage your child to communicate, intentionally create “sabotage” scenarios where they can express their desires and needs. Remember that your child may wait to use the words, but with consistent modeling, they will eventually begin using them.

Strategy 3: Implement Verbal Routines

Verbal routines, like “Row row row your boat,” make language predictable and a part of the fun, familiar activities. Pausing before the last word in a phrase allows your child to fill in the blank and take the lead in continuing the routine. They learn that using their words keeps the fun going.

Here are a few ways to use this strategy:

  • “Ready, set, go!”While pushing your child on a swing, say, “Ready… set… go!” and pause before “Go.” Let your child try to complete the phrase. You can also use action words instead of “go” to match the activity, like “swing” or “slide.”
  • “Up, up, up… Down!”: While stacking blocks, say “up, up, up…” as the tower grows taller. When the tower falls, say “down!” and exaggerate your gestures. Encourage your child to say “down” as well.
  • “1..2..3.. Dance!”: Play with toy animals and say “1.. 2.. 3.. Dance!” Make the animal do a fun dance, and eventually, let your child fill in the action word. You can replace “dance” with any other action word.

Tip: Be creative and use repetitive words in various situations to create verbal routines. This strategy is excellent for teaching multiple words.

Looking For a Professional Speech-Language Pathologist?

In summary, there are many ways to enhance your child’s language skills by creating an environment that promotes communication. Keep these language stimulation strategies in mind, and you’ll likely see your child using more new words each week. If you need extra help or more ideas for implementing these strategies, feel free to reach out to our team of speech-language pathologists here at Speak Live Play. We’re here to support you and your child’s language development journey! Call us today!

Angela Pilini

Author Angela Pilini

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