Increasing your Child’s Expressive Language Skills

How can you get involved?

Feeling like your child is falling behind in their communication and expressive language skills can be tough but if you’re reading this then you’re on the right path to making proactive steps to improve your child’s development.

But where do you start?

This is a question we hear a LOT; ‘how can I help improve my child’s expressive language skills at home?’

Whether you’re using a professional speech therapist or not, there are all sorts of amazing – and fun – activities and techniques that you can use at home or out and about to encourage and nurture your child’s expressive language skills.

Tips for Increasing Expressive Language Skills

1. Keeping high value motivators out of reach

So we need to start here by discussing what a ‘high value motivator’ is. Spoiler alert: it’s different for everyone.

High value motivators are what make your child tick. It could be a particular toy, a certain snack or, as it was in my case, their favorite stuffed animal (Hendy the horse lives on in this post).

Whatever it is that your child likes to play with, scribble on, cuddle or chew, more than anything else. This is one of your high value motivators.

Okay, so why keep them out of reach?

The idea here is to prompt your child to have to ask for their favorite toy. If it’s readily available who do they need to communicate with to get it? Nobody.

So, by storing high value motivators in places only you can reach, we can both prompt communication and demonstrate how communication has rewards to offer which reinforces a positive relationship with communication for the child.

Remember: Communication isn’t only verbal and might not be full words let alone sentences. Depending on where your child is in their development, gestures, rudimentary sounds or even glances can be a step in the right direction.

2. Forced alternatives

Forcing alternatives is a personal favorite technique and a great way for you to easily get involved in your child’s speech therapy.

The concept is simple. Instead of asking your child whether they want something, give them one or more alternatives so that they have to verbalize their choice.

Instead of “Would you like this dolly”

Ask “Would you like the dolly, the car or the coloring book?”

As with your high value motivators, your child’s stage of development will influence how much you want to push for the spoken answer, especially if the items are in sight. If your child points to the object, sometimes the fact that they’re listening, and understanding can be enough. If, however, you’re a little further along than that, then you can gently probe with a follow up question like “Which one?”

This technique can be used at many stages throughout your child’s speech and language development.

Other forced alternatives you could use are:

  • Show your child a picture of another child crying and ask, “is the child crying or eating?”
  • Show your child a picture of the outdoors and ask, “is it sunny or raining?”
  • When your child is playing perhaps ask “Does (toy’s name) make you happy or sad?”

3. Modeling correct speech

Mispronunciation is totally normal in children as they develop their language skills, especially as toddlers. It’s important to show your child the correct way to pronounce the words they struggle with but we’d usually steer clear of a ‘that’s not how you say it’ approach.

Instead, when your child mispronounces something, mirror their speech with the correct pronunciation.

i.e. Child: “It’s lellow”

Parent: “Yes, it is yellow isn’t it?”

Positively reinforcing is the key here. It’s important to understand that what you hear and what the child hears can be different. Some children might not realize that what they say sounds different to what you say. You may have noticed this at some point. It’s not uncommon for children to correct you when you mirror their incorrect pronunciation.

Child: “It’s lellow”

Adult: “Yes, it is lellow isn’t it?”

Child: “It’s not lellow, it’s lellow.”

4. Read, read and read some more

Reading books with your child, even in this technological age, is an incredibly important and beneficial activity to take part in. If you’re not doing it already, start. If you are, do it more.

There are so many benefits to reading with your child. It serves as a provocation to communication on their part, encourages listening and turn taking and gives you something to talk about if your imagination is running low (they’re hard to keep up with sometimes, right?).

Picture books are especially useful. Try to find a picture book with no words, sit down with your child with as few external distractions as possible and see what stories you can come up with between you. This is a reciprocal activity so it’s just as much about you modeling proper speech and language, as it is your child.

So which of these pointers are you already using? Which are you most looking forward to trying out? And what’s your favorite way to get your little one talking at home.

Let us know and we’ll see you in the next post!

Need more help with your child? See how Connect Teletherapy therapists can help your child increase their expressive language skills! Schedule a consultation today to learn more about our speech therapy services!

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