It’s impossible for us to understand - or to be more accurate, to remember - what it’s like for a baby or toddler trying to get to grips with conversation. Even if we decide to learn another tongue, we at least know what language is, we grasp the concept; our little ones are starting entirely from scratch. So how can we help them?
Most importantly, we can integrate speech into every aspect of our interaction with our very young children.
Talk about what is happening as it happens, “The foot goes into the sock” for example, and whilst playing with them, do your thinking aloud, “I wonder if this brick will balance on the tower, or will it make it fall over?”
If your child is beginning to identify objects with words, in addition to acknowledging when they are right, you can add to what they have said.
“Yes, it’s a yellow ball.”
Even before they are able to talk, you can model the patterns of conversation through non-verbal communication. Turn taking, eye contact, agreement, acknowledgement, mirroring and body language are all important aspects of how we interact with each other, and these must be learned too. Sure, we pick up a lot of these conventions just through observing one another, but if you’re aware of reinforcing the patterns of conversation during physical play with your child, then they should grasp them all the more easily.
And whilst we’re on the subject of observation, pay attention to the way that your child or children interact with others. Encourage peer collaboration, give some narration on what is happening, describe what you see to the children involved.
The more your children are exposed to language, the less intimidating it will be for them. In this day and age, so much of our communication takes place via screens and the written word, it’s vital that we take time and make the effort to help our children feel comfortable with the verbal spontaneous self-expression that is face to face conversation.
Last week I had a conversation with a member of the How to Speak Child Facebook Community around an article I had posted which dealt with instilling confidence in anxious children. As part of my response I said, "As ever, whole body listening is key. " She was very taken with the phrase and asked if it was a ‘thing'. I didn't know if it was a 'thing' outside my own usage, so I looked it up.