Most parents are understandably excited when their child first starts to speak. Many also know that one of the best ways to help their child’s language development is to talk to them as much as possible from day one, about almost anything. But how else can parents help their child’s language skills develop?
David Loyst has been studying and teaching about parenting for over 30 years as a speech language pathologist, autism consultant, and parent coach. He says it helps to think not just about language development, but ‘expressive’ language development.
Stimulating Language Development
For David, stimulating language in an infant or a child always starts with the same approach.
“I follow their lead and find out what they are interested in. Then I start talking about that. A lot! I might say: ‘Oh, wow. There’s a dog. Did you see that dog? He was barking. That dog was barking.’ So I've said the word dog several times,” he says.
David’s deliberate use of language goes beyond repetition. He also avoids too many ‘What’s that?’ questions.
“You're not teaching a kid when you repeat, ‘What's that? What's that?’. You're testing a child,” David says.
Instead, he focuses on statements that repeat key words, helping them to build a vocabulary of feelings from early on.
“In the dog example I might add, ‘You were scared of the dog, right?’ I build a vocabulary of feelings because young kids have emotions, but they don't have names of feelings,” David says.
One of the most useful tips for helping develop language is the ‘plus one’ concept.
“If I have a two-year-old child that has two word utterances, I'll mostly model three word utterances. If they say ‘more juice’, I'll say ‘Yes, more apple juice’, or ‘Apple juice is good’ or ‘It's cold apple juice’. I’m saying apple juice repetitively but I’m adding just a little bit,” David says.
He does the same with commands, by adding just one more step each time.
“If I say, ‘get your coat’ or ‘get your shoes on’ then the next time I might say, ‘Get your shoes on. Where's your coat?’ I want to see if they can understand a little bit more through one extra command. I'm always watching,” he says.
The key to the plus one approach, says David, is to think of language development like a high jump.
“If the bar is too high and you crash into it all the time then you don't want to do it anymore. If I’m a child and my parents are talking to me but giving me 70,000 commands that I cannot follow, I tune them out because I am continually jumping into the bar. But if the bar is too low, then you're not enabling me,” David says.
It’s a concept of development David says also works beyond language. He’s also noted that ‘snowplough parents’ (a term from his native Canada referring to parents who constantly move obstacles out of the way of their children) aren’t good at it.
“Those parents are setting the bar too low. You want to be mindful of where to set the bar, set it where they can jump, let them jump over it a few times and then lift it up,” he says.