Dear Mr. Dad: I can’t help but notice that some of the kids at my daughter’s day care are way more verbal than she is. We read to her all the time and we’re a chatty family so what gives?
A: First things first: not all children develop language skills at the same pace. And there’s no proven connection between the age at which kids start to speak and intelligence.
That said, the differences you’ve noticed at your daughter’s day care could be a matter of genetics or, as you suggested, the parents could be doing something extra that you and your spouse haven’t tried yet.
There’s no question that reading to your child and exposing her to lots of language is crucial to language development, but according to Dr. Jill Gilkerson, language research director at LENA Foundation, “Talk is powerful, but what’s even more powerful is engaging a child in meaningful interactions – the ‘give and take’ that is so important to the social, emotional and cognitive development of infants and toddlers.”
Not quite sure how to put that into effect? Here are a few tips to get you started:
•When a child coos or blows a raspberry, pretend that she’s just said something positively brilliant. These early “conversations” set the tone for future interactions and strengthen the muscles needed for speech.
•When a toddler points to something and grunts, tell him the word he’s looking for, put it in a sentence (if you’re doing sign language, show him the sign). But before you hand over the object, encourage him to tell you what he wants.
•Snuggle up to read a book, but don’t confine yourself to the words on the page. Point out interesting things in the pictures and ask your child to do the same.
•Ask open-ended questions. Even a 2-year-old is able to tell you something about her day.
•Remember, this isn’t an interrogation, it’s a give and take. The more you share, the more your child will learn and want to share back.
•Don’t talk down to them.
•Correct your child’s pronunciation when you need to, but not negatively. Instead of, “You said it wrong,” which might make your child reluctant to try again, try “Good try! I like how you said ‘eggplant’!” or “Did you mean…?” and then say the word correctly.
Every child learns to speak at his or her own pace, but helping your child develop and hone those language skills now might start great conversation habits that will last well into the teen years.