Language Development

Language Development: 6 Must-Know Tips on Helping the Child with Weak Expressive Language Skills

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If you think that speech therapy is the only way to help the child with weak language development, think again. There are numerous reasons why you, as your child’s primary caretaker, are a great candidate for helping your child. First of all, your child spends a relatively limited time in therapy. And as a parent, you know your child inside out.

Second, you know that when your daughter shrugs her shoulders she’s feeling overwhelmed, and that “umba” is short for “I’m going bye-bye.”  You also know what motivates them, and you probably have a good idea when they’ve had enough.

Last of all:  you spend more time with your child, whether it’s in carpool on the way back from school, or waiting in line at the grocery store. And time, in the therapy game, is a deal maker.

If you’re feeling incapable of teaching your child on your own, then consider this: you’ve already taught your child some of the most difficult tasks he’ll ever accomplish. And look at it this way: helping your child learn to express himself beats cleaning up walls, toys, and the insides of shoes (she told you she didn’t like them, didn’t she?) smeared with poop ANY DAY.

Now for those six tips:

1) Encourage your child to elaborate.

Children with weak language development tend to speak in short, incomplete sentences. They don’t always express complete thoughts, either because it’s too difficult for them or because they assume you know what they’re talking about.

Instead of accepting this state of affairs, explain to your child what elaboration is, and why it’s important. When your child reverts to incomplete, cut-off, or non-sequitor sentences, follow up with an “I need you to explain that part to me a little bit more. What/Where/How did that happen?

2) Play 20 Questions.

You can play a new twist on this family favorite that will help your child learn how to describe objects in more detail. First, you choose something in the room. Then you start giving details about it, one detail at a time. After each detail given your child gets a chance to guess what you’re thinking of.

Because your child can look around in the room, it will be easier for her to guess what you’re referring to. And when it’s her turn to describe an object, she won’t have to rely on memory; she’ll have a visual stimulus right in front of her.

3) Discourage the use of words like “stuff” or “thing.”

Encourage your child to think of the word she really wants to say, rather than relying on these vague filler words. If he struggles with word retrieval issues, encourage him to give clues about what he’s referring to. For example, if he wants to say hot dog, he can say “you eat it on a bun. It’s long and thin.”

Once you guess what the word is, don’t automatically tell your child the word. Instead, just say the first few sounds or syllable, and let your child fill in the blank.

4) Be careful not to embarrass your child in public.

While improving your child’s speech is a noteworthy goal, not all places and times are ideal for doing so. Don’t ask your child to give long or complicated answers, if they’ll have trouble getting their thoughts together. If your son makes a grammatical error, don’t correct him in front of everyone; wait until you get home, and tell him there.

5) Make sure your child gets a chance to speak.

It’s easy to get in the habit of helping your child finish his sentences, or explaining what he means to other family members. But if you want your child to improve, you need to step back, and give him a chance to use the skills he is learning.

Also, if there are other children in the family who are very verbal, you will need to step in and ensure that your quieter child gets to have his say too.

6) Shut off TVs, DVDs, cell phones, and other gadgets during specific times of the day.

If you want your child to improve her expressive language skills, there has to be a time when meaningful conversation can take place. A conversation with your daughter with the TV in the background, cell phone in her hand and iPod in yours is bound to fail.

Furthermore, the “rules” of texting and chatting discourage lengthy conversations, and encourage poor grammatical usage.

So set a specific time of day for “unplugging.” Whether it’s at dinner, before bed, or after 10:00 in the evening, doing so will not only improve your child’s ability to talk, but will strengthen family ties as well.

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