Sunday, 1 March 2015

How to help your child to talk


As a parent of young children I often hear discussions between parents worrying about their child's speech. 'My son is 18 months and he still can't talk". "My daughter is 12 months and she hasn't said a word yet". "My child is 2.5 years old and can only say about 5 words".

As a Speech and Language Therapist I often find myself giving out the same advice over and over again about how to help your child to talk. So, I thought it would be useful if I wrote a post on it.

There may be a number of reasons why your child is not talking yet and I have covered them in this post. Now I will give you some advice on how to help.

Give choices

First of all, make sure you are giving your child lots of choices throughout the day. 

When it's snack time ask, 'would you like the apple or the orange?'

During play time ask, 'Would you like to play with the cars or the blocks?' 

At bedtime ask, 'Would you like the Thomas book or the Elmer book?' 

You get the picture. The important thing is to get your child communicating with you. It may just be a point at first; they may just reach towards the object they desire. Don't be put off by this, this is communication after all! They may vocalise, say the first sound of the word or say something unintelligible. Don't worry, this is a good start. 

When you are giving the choices make sure you have the objects in your hands, one in each hand. When you say the word, 'apple' for example, hold the object up near your mouth. This will direct your child's gaze to the object and, because it is situated by your mouth, they will also be looking at your mouth forming the word when you say it. Repeat this for the second choice remembering to hold the first object away from your face as you name the second. If the child does not answer you can try this a few more times to see if it triggers a response. 

Running commentary

This advice is often given to parents of young babies. Babies and young children learn language by listening to it in their surrounding environment. Therefore, make sure you are talking as much as possible and giving them the chance to hear it! 

Talk when you are getting them dressed in the morning, 'Your left arm goes in the left sleeve' and, 'Your socks go on your feet'. 

Talk when you are making the breakfast, 'I'm pouring the milk into the bowl'. 

Talk when you are playing, 'The teddy is having a picnic'. 

Talk when you are in the garden, 'I'm watering the flowers'.

Talk when you go shopping, 'We need some yoghurts and some cheese' and, 'Let's put the shopping in the bags'.

Talk constantly. This is called the running commentary, you are giving a running commentary of what you are doing. You may feel slightly silly but it really is very beneficial for your child to be hearing all this language.

Short, simple phrases

It may be useful to talk to them in shorter phrases than you are used to. This will help with their understand and also help them to pick up and learn key words.

Instead of saying, 'I've told you a thousand times not to hit other children because you could hurt them and it's very naughty. You are in so much trouble now. Why don't you ever listen to me when I'm talking to you?' try saying, 'No hitting. Hitting hurts. Please listen to me.'

Expand on what they say

If your child is still at the one word stage and you are trying to help them move on from this, try expanding on what you hear them say. 

If they say 'car', you say, 'The big blue car' or, 'The car is driving'.

If they say 'apple', you say, 'Would you like to eat an apple?' or, 'You are eating your apple' or 'Apples are tasty'.

If they say 'flower' you say 'The bright, yellow flower' or 'Smell this flower'. 

They may be using short phrases but you wish them to try and expand them into fuller sentences.

If they say 'teddy sleeping' you say, 'The teddy is sleeping in his bed'.

If they say, 'hurt foot door' you say 'Did you hurt your foot on the door?'

If they say, 'leaves fall tree' you say 'The leaves are falling off the tree'.

Although you are trying to expand what they are saying, try not to use so much language that they become overwhelmed.

Whatever you do, do not force your child to repeat a word or phrase or copy what you are saying. That can be very frustrating and upsetting for a child who is trying their hardest to talk. The point is to model what the correct word or phrase is and, hopefully, by listening to you they will pick it up. Modelling is the key word here. Model the desired speech and language. Be a communication role model for your child. 

Additional Articles of Interest

Why isn't my child talking yet?



  1. Great tips here, modelling is so important. It can be a worry when your child doesn't talk until later.

  2. I am a developmental psycholinguist specialising in first language acquisition, so I also find myself often talking with parents about their children's language development. From now on I'll direct them to your blog post :)

    1. Brilliant. Thanks a lot :) I hope this post can help parents and children who are struggling with this.

  3. What perfect timing Im just at this stage with my son so lots of great tips in your post , thanks k x

    1. You're welcome :) I really hope these tips can help :)

  4. These are some great tips...I have always involved my son in our conversations and even though he was a bit late to talk there is no stopping him now

    Laura x

    1. Glad to hear it. They normally do catch up in the end :)

  5. very reassuring, my son said very little until he was about 3, he is now 8 and sometimes I wish he would stop talking #WhatsYourWeekend

    1. Hehe. Yes once they start they don't stop!

  6. Sounds like great tips. I used to talk constantly to my son and he turned out to be an early speaker, it was a little more difficult with my twins, but they still did well. My twin nephews are 2 and a half and not really talking yet, so this may help them.
    Thanks for sharing #LetKidsBeKids

    1. Yes I'm sure it could help them. Hope it's beneficial :)

  7. Thank you for sharing - these sound like great tips. My eldest was a little slow to start talking (although she signed so was able to communicate) but once she got going there was no stopping her. I've always kept up a running commentary with both but my youngest at 16 months is already at the stage that her sister was at 2 - I think it's probably from hearing her big sister chattering away all the time!

    1. My youngest was a quick talker too and I'm sure having an older sister who is a complete chatterbox helped :)


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