How to Talk to Your Baby: Tips for Parents Expanding Speech/Language Skills

By: Valerie Heneghan, CCC-SLP/L

Each baby’s development is unique and magnificent! However, parents will often ask us these questions:

  • How do I know if I am doing enough to foster speech and language development to keep my baby on track?
  • What communication milestones should I be looking for?

In general, these are a few communication milestones that you should be looking for in the first year of life from the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA). 

Birth-3 Months

  • Seems to recognize your voice and quiets if crying
  • Makes pleasure sounds (cooing, gooing)
  • Cries differently for different needs
  • Smiles when sees you

baby34-6 Months

  • Moves eyes in direction of sounds
  • Babbling sounds more speech-like with many different sounds, including p, b and m
  • Vocalizes excitement and displeasure

7 Months – 1 Year

  • Begins to respond to requests (e.g. “Come here” or “Want more?”)
  • Babbling has both long and short groups of sounds such as “tata upup bibibibi”
  • Uses gestures to communicate (waving, holding arms to be picked up)
  • Has one or two words (hi, dog, dada, mama) around first birthday, although sounds may not be clear

Here are 8 tips to help meet these milestones, engage, and expand your child’s ability to communicate.

  • Child-directed communication. The amount and quality of language has a huge impact on your child’s communication development. Research has shown that babies benefit greater from child-directed communication rather than language that is overheard (e.g., asking your child a question vs. listening to the TV in the background) Take the time to smile and enjoy your child through communication exchanges.

 

  • Imitate your child’s sounds and actions. Imitation is a very important skill for your child to learn.  Imitating your baby encourages him/her to notice you and even imitate your actions and/or words. This skill is vital for expanding babbling to initiating first words (e.g., “Mamama”, “babo”, etc.).

 

  • Put the child’s message into words.  When your child sends you a message by reaching, pointing, looking, or making a sound; put into words what you think he is trying to tell you.  Be repetitive, children learn through repeated exposure to target words. (e.g., Do you see the ball? Ball, Here is the ball.).

 

  • Talk with your child during every day routines and activities. When your child hears familiar words and sentences in the same contexts every day, it helps to build his understanding of language.  This is one of the best ways to learn more difficult concepts as well such as verbs, prepositions, etc. (e.g., Look the dog is running. He is running so fast!)

Baby nico on swing

  • Be face to face. When playing with your child, get down to his/her eye level.  Sit facing him/her when he is in his high chair or while playing on the floor.  This way, your child can see and hear you better fostering communication and imitation attempts. During this time, use gestures such as pointing, and imitating daily routines (e.g., washing hands, stirring spoon, kissing babies, etc.)

 

  • Offer your child choices. Hold up two objects and show each object as you name it.  You can ask, “Do you want crackers or bananas?”  Observe how your child communicates his/her choice-looking at the one he/she wants, reaching toward it, pointing to it, making a sound or saying the word.  As soon as your child lets you know what he/she wants, give it to him/her which will allow him/her to experience the power of communication!

 

  • Pause during a familiar routine to tell your child it’s his turn. When you and your child are doing something repeatedly (e.g., swinging, tickling).  Pause during the activity from time to time.  For example, after you have tickled your child, stop the game and WAIT for him/her to let you know that he/she wants more.  Don’t say anything-just look expectantly.  See if your child will tell you to continue in anticipation for that desired activity.

 

  • Sign Language. Sign language is the use of a gestural system to communicate. Signs can be used to reduce frustration and give the child a way to communicate his wants and needs while he/she is still coordinating their speech production system. (My personal favorites are “more”, “all done”, “milk”, and “up”).

    all_done
    From babysignlanguage.com

 

In summary, the best way to foster speech-language development with your child in their first year of life is to: TALK, PLAY, READ, and SING!  If you have any questions or need additional support, please contact a speech-language pathologist for more information.

If you are concerned about your child’s language or other development, take our free online developmental screening tool for children birth to age five. The Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) will showcase your child’s developmental milestones while uncovering any potential delays. Learn more at askeasterseals.org. 

 

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