Language is very important for toddlers and preschoolers. Through conversation, they learn many other things, such as social skills and how to understand their emotions.
There are several ways parents and caregivers can help babies and young children develop their language skills.
Respond to your baby. Even though babies cannot yet use words, they are still trying to communicate. By responding to a baby’s babbles and gestures, you are teaching them that they’re successfully connecting you. For example, when your baby reaches for a toy, you can say, “Oh, you want to play with this toy. Here you go.” Even though conversations with a baby can seem one-sided, they validate the importance of conversation and communication.
Read with your child. No matter what age your child is, reading to them is invaluable in helping them develop language skills. You can read the exact story that is written, but you can also discuss the pictures, and ask your child questions such as, “What do you think the puppy is looking for?”
Tell stories. Like reading a book, telling a story is a good way for a child’s imagination to assist with language development. You can invent an age-appropriate story similar to your child’s favorite book, or you can recount a true story. For example, if your preschooler has just received their first tricycle, you can tell them a story about getting your own first tricycle.
Build upon what your child says. Though it can seem like a lot of information for a child, adding on to what they say allows them to make greater connections between words and the world around them. For example, if your child says, “Car,” you can respond with, “Yes, that’s a green car. Where is it going? Maybe it’s going to the store.”
Pay attention when your child speaks. Whether or not your child is speaking clearly and confidently, it’s important to model the importance of being present in a conversation. Calmly and patiently listen to what your child is saying, and give them time to respond to you as well. When your child sees that you value what they have to say, they will be motivated to continue practicing.
Discuss things as they’re happening. Your everyday activities offer a great opportunity to help your child learn new words, as well as learn more about how the world works. You can say things like, “I’m looking for apples. I like green ones the best. I’m choosing ones that aren’t soft. I’m getting this bag to put the apples in. Can you help me find some green apples?” You can also narrate your child’s experience, such as, “You’re playing with your big brother. What is he building?”
Give and ask for simple directions. Giving and receiving directions also helps your child practice their language skills. The directions you give will vary depending on your child’s age, from “Throw the ball” to “Please go up to your room and bring me your favorite book.” You can also ask your child to direct you in an activity, such as drawing a picture of the family pet.
Be positive. When helping your child develop their language skills, it is important to be calm and patient, and let your child grow in their own way. Resist criticizing your child’s pronunciation. Instead, repeat the sentence back to them with correct pronunciation and word usage. Give lots of praise and encouragement to show your child that making the effort is worth it.
Exposing your child to language as early and as often as possible will help them to understand the importance of good communication. Strong language skills are key to developing social skills, vocabulary, and emotional management. With these tips, you can help support your child’s language skills.