The strong and silent type may be appealing in Hollywood, but when you’re faced with a child who has weak language development, the stark reality of spending days and weeks waiting for your child to reveal even the most uninteresting bits of their day quickly intrudes.
You’ve probably noticed how children with weak expressive language skills seem to bounce back and forth between two extremes: in the morning for example, you can spend a half hour trying to keep up with your youngster’s almost frantic chatter - only to find that nothing of real substance was actually said. Upon arrival from school, you then spend another half hour wishing you had trained with the FBI on information gathering techniques: your child’s mouth is closed as tight as a drum.
There are however, several tips you can use that will not only get your child talking, but help your child talk meaningfully:
1) Introduce a little variety.
Repeating the same things over and over again, whether in play or speech, is actually quite common in children with weak language development. By doing so your child creates a little island of safety that he controls.
You can gently encourage your child to break out of his routine by introducing something new into the script.
For example, if your child insists on telling you exactly what he ate, and in what amounts, every day after school, throw in a friendly, “I hear the elephant on the menu is real popular.” If your child simply ignores you, don’t give up. Simply repeat, “Did you have any?” with a smile on your face.
Don’t worry if your child waves you off with a “Dad I’m trying to tell you something.” What you’re looking for is a response (preferably related) to what you’ve said. The more your child is able to respond to your words or gestures, the more they will build their ability to communicate effectively.
2) Help your child be a problem solver.
Perhaps you tend to try and make things as easy as you can for your child; after all, they have so much else to deal with, why make it harder?
But this is exactly what you shouldn’t do. Not to be mean of course, but you need to push your child a little bit, every once a while, instead of just going along with whatever your child does. In doing so, you create a problem that forces him to take the next step, rather than just repeating the previous one.
3) Introduce new sensory experiences.
Remember how kids used to dive in a wading pool of slime and flounder monster-sized pot of spaghetti on Nickelodeon? While no one’s suggesting you recreate Prince Spaghetti day in your backyard, it does help if you try to bring in the sensory or motor processing skills that are difficult for your child.
You can introduce arm chair adventurists to textures or movements they would normally resist simply by allowing a doll or play figure to act as a substitute. This allows your child a non-threatening way to experience something they would never consider (at least while you watch).
4) Don't just comment on what your child does - help him extend the conversation.
Next time, instead of nodding absent-mindedly while your child tells you about the exploits of Dora the Explorer (for the 34th time), answer. But not with long-winded soliloquies, or with trite little remarks like, “You’re making a nuclear bomb to destroy the world? Why how lovely.”
Your child doesn’t need you to agree with them. Instead, extend what they are saying, but be sure to use simple words or phrases. For example, if your 3 year old –who usually speaks 2 or 3 words at a time - crashes his plane into the living room couch, remark, “Boom! Plane broken.”
The key to helping your child open up is engage, engage, engage. No one likes to be talked over, down to, or bugged to death. So keep things friendly.