This spring, when we were planning this series, we wanted to get talking with a couple of our friends. We have mom friends and girlfriends, and we talk about our kids a lot. However, we don’t usually get to have professional conversations about their development. Enter our close friend Sarah, a licensed Speech Language Pathologist (SLP). Gotta love our super-accomplished Millennial Mom circle!
Before we start on our Course Notes series on the Auditory system, we gave her a few basic questions on speech that we were curious about.
1) What interested you in becoming an SLP?
Initially, I was going to school to become a physical therapist. I really liked sports and physical therapy seemed like a natural fit for me. As I started going through college, I became interested in American Sign Language and took two semesters of sign language courses. My mom heard my excitement about learning sign language and encouraged me to take a phonetics course over the summer.
After a couple of classes into the phonetics course and I was hooked. I started researching more about becoming an SLP and really liked the variety of settings that were available to speech language pathologists. I knew I liked working with children but could see other settings that would be a great fit for me. I found the variety of areas that SLPs work on very interesting. That next semester, I switched my major to Speech Language Pathology.
2) The latest parenting books recommend exposing your kids to as much talk and language as possible in the first three years. What other things can parents do to encourage speech and conversation with their kids?
READ! The biggest and most important thing you can do for your kids is to read to them. It’s never too early to read! Start with baby books during tummy time. When reading with your infants, have fun making simple vocalizations (for example: animal sounds/ simple sounds “pop”, “wee”) and exclamations (ugh-oh).
Create a routine to include books right before naps and bedtime. While reading, name and point to all the things you see in the pictures. Also take the time to follow your child’s eye gaze and name or talk about what they are looking at. With touch and feel books, put hands on the pictures and tell them the words of what you both are feeling. Progress from baby books (picture books) to single word books. You can name each picture to work on nouns and verbs and then you can move on to simple stories.
Save those complex stories for later when your kid’s understanding of language has matured. It may seem simple, but your kiddo’s brain is learning and taking in everything you are saying.
A few other great things that will encourage speech and language development in the first three years are:
• PLAY! Play with developmentally appropriate toys. Play is critical to a kiddo’s development and helps them enhance so many important skills.
• TALK about everything! Talk out loud about everything that you are doing. When you change your baby’s diaper, describe what you are doing. When you are making dinner, describe what you are doing. All that language will encourage your child to speak.
• SING! A great way to learn language is to sing to your children. Singing/music uses another area of your brain. It can become a predictable way for them to hear the same sounds and words if you repeat songs. Keep songs slow so they can learn the words and tune. A great way to elicit vocalizations during a predictable song is to pause and wait for them to fill in the missing sounds or words. The song does not change so your child feels successful in filling in the gaps of the song. Don’t worry if your voice isn’t the best, because the important thing to remember is kids don’t know the difference! They are excited that you are playing and having fun with them.
• Mirror Play. Jointly look into a mirror while making faces, and/or playing with sounds/ producing words. This encourages little ones to try and imitate sounds and words that will comprise their speech later on in development. This also encourages facial expressions, which is important for their social development. They are learning emotions for themselves and what it means for other people.
REPETITION is key! Feel like a broken record? Are you saying the same things over and over? Don’t worry about it! Kids learn from repetition. They need repetition to learn.
3) Speech and hearing are very closely linked. What are some red flags parents should be looking for?
Yes! Speech and hearing are very closely associated and watching for red flags is important. Hearing is an important component that is needed so that you can communicate by speaking. Early signs of concern could be if your child does not react to loud or startling sounds that are out of sight. If they are not hearing correctly, you may start to notice that they are not achieving their speech milestones.
Each age has speech milestones that your child should be achieving, starting from birth. Children reach speech milestones within a certain age range. For example, babies start to babble around 6-7 months. If your child is not reaching speech milestones by the end of the range that is suggested or even a few months after, I would start seeking advice and assistance from your pediatrician or by talking to a Speech Language Pathologist.
Trust your instinct and can always reach out to your pediatrician. Additionally, it’s important to consider that frequent ear infections could impact hearing accuracy.
If you’re concerned about your child’s hearing or they have had recurring ear infections, please take them to have their hearing evaluated or visit their pediatrician.
4) Should I be concerned if my 2-year-old is only saying words, but not putting them into phrases? Any advice on how to help them do so?
At approximately 18 months, many kids start to learn to put words together. Some kids will start earlier, but some kids may take a little longer to start using phrases. Often, I find parents at this age are too quick to help their child. It is important that you give your kid the chance to try and succeed with a new skill. I know it can be so difficult to watch them struggle or not succeed immediately. It can be difficult to make the jump from, “I have to do everything for you to be successful” to “I need to allow you time and space to try, fail, and succeed”. Of course, this is not every parent, but it is something to keep in mind the next time you are communicating with your child.
Some tips and tricks to get your kid successful in using 2-word phrases are Modeling, Waiting, and Pointing. Modeling is when you say the phrase you want your child to use when speaking. If my kid says “cookie”, I might respond by saying “more cookie”. This shows them what you are expecting when they are communicating. You can model and then wait for them to imitate your phrase before you do the requested phrase.
Waiting is when you give your child time to respond or imitate the modeled phrase. If they don’t imitate the phrase initially, continue to model the same phrase or a new phrase until they start to imitate it back to you. The more you model, the more it will encourage your child to imitate you and what you are saying.
Pointing is when you direct your child’s gaze to your mouth to focus their attention when you are modeling that 2-word phrase and then you could point to their mouth to show that you would like for them to repeat the phrase or produce a similar 2-word phrase.
5) How can I get my 2-year-old to make requests using words instead of pointing to objects?
Again, this is where that modeling and waiting come into play. Model the word that you would like for them to use and then wait for them to imitate the word or words. For example, if your toddler wants a snack and really likes apples. Instead of having them point to the apples, take out the apples, say the word “apples,” look at your child to have them imitate the word. You can encourage more production of words by pointing to your mouth when you say “apple” and then point to your child’s mouth.
If your little one does any production that may be close to the word apple (especially if they are just starting to speak) such as “apa” or “papa” praise them and give them a few pieces of the apple. Another side note, if practicing these skills with food, is to give them a small portion of the food. This way, when they want more, you get to retry the verbal request. The more successful your child feels at producing words, the more they will try to produce.
6) My child has a tough time following verbal directions. Any suggestions?
The important thing to decipher with following verbal directions is determining why they are having difficulties. Are they having difficulty because they do not have the attention span to follow what you are asking them? Are the directions an appropriate length for your child’s age? Do they understand what you are asking them to do? Are they hearing your directions and choosing not to follow them?
Attention can have a huge impact on your child’s ability to follow verbal directions. They may get distracted or forget what you said. It is important that you get on your kid’s level and give your directions. If they get distracted or forget, you can have them repeat the directions back to you. Also, keep your directions simple. The length of your directions is dependent on the age of your child. I would not give a three-year-old 2 or 3 step directions because it would be inappropriate for that their comprehension level. Keeping instructions short will assist your child in being more successful.
If your kiddo is having difficulty understanding what you are asking them to do, you could change the words you are using to see if that helps aid their comprehension. However, if you are noticing an increased difficulty in understanding the words you are using, I would seek assistance from a SLP. They could assess your child’s verbal comprehension skills. If your child is choosing not to follow your instructions, you can try the tips I gave earlier of getting on their level, simplifying your directions, and asking them to repeat the instructions. You may need to seek additional assistance from a counselor or a behaviorist.
7) Any tips on helping my kid pronounce certain words correctly? For example, they say “bafroom” instead of “bathroom”, “lellow” for “yellow”, or “booger” when saying “burger”.
Articulation is an age associated question. Like language skills, certain milestones are expected within certain age ranges. All speech sounds have a time when they should be acquired or mastered. When children first use speech sounds to create words, they produce words with approximations. With time and practice, they should start to correct themselves and produce words more clearly. Various articulation errors can fall into the category of phonological processes which have a time and a place in child development.
At home while playing, reading, and talking with your child, you can model appropriate articulation of words. Take the time to repeat the corrected word back to them. For example, if they say “Mama lellow bus”, you could repeat back and say “oh I see the yellow bus”. Give them time to learn and listen to new words.
If you feel a concern or if other adults have difficulty understanding your child, follow up with a professional to seek clarity and confirmation. Children are individuals and some may take a little more time than others. Seeking support from a SLP would help in determining if speech articulation concerns are present.