5 Ways To Foster Language Skills In Your Baby (And 5 Ways That Hinder It)

Speech and language delays, which affect 3-10% of children, are the most commonly-diagnosed developmental disorder for kids, four times more common in boys than in girls. Although children hit milestones at different ages, children typically have verbal communication established by three years of age. A language delay is a language development of a child that is way below the norm of other children his age.

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Research shows that in order to avoid language delays in toddler and school-aged children, it is crucial to start language development within the first 6 months of age for the baby. These are 5 ways to foster language in your baby (and 5 ways that hinder it).

10 FOSTER: Building Receptive Skills

When it comes to speaking, many of us do not remember how we learned to talk. Speech development typically starts as babbling and coos, and one-word utterances like "mama" or "dada." However, at this age, babies start to build their receptive language, which is the ability to connect what is said to understanding, otherwise known as listening.

The Hanen Program, the gurus of speech-language pathology, has an excellent receptive language building technique called OWL (Observe, Wait, and Listen) that later helps with teaching your child how to express words. By letting your child take the lead, you verbalize what they are interested in and wait for their response. This creates a "back-and-forth" dynamic that they will later use for conversational skills.

9 FOSTER: Enhancing Expressive Skills

Parents unknowingly try to make their young toddlers repeat words like parrots. This is a common mistake, as instead of enhancing their expressive skills (to be able to verbally communicate), it won't allow them to understand what word belongs to what. Using their now-established receptive skills, you can model words to what they are interested in.

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For example, your baby gets excited over their bottle of milk. You observe that they shake with excitement, you wait to see that they are eyeing the bottle, and listen for their squeal. To build their expressive language, you can say, "Milk!" Once they have heard that word said after every time you've seen this reaction to their bottle, they will begin understanding that their bottle means the word "milk." Once they get the hang of saying that modeled word, you add on word-length like, "Yay! Milk." Modeling and adding to word length will increase their vocabulary.

8 FOSTER: Communication

As adults, we are capable of communicating in many ways: on the phone, talking to someone in the next room, and so on. However, babies and toddlers who are just building their receptive and expressive language skills need to be able to watch our mouths and how we form words. They are also studying our facial features and speech inflection.

When you communicate to your baby, it's important to try to be face-to-face as much as possible and speak with enthusiasm in your voice. Gestures, actions, and facial expressions also aid in the baby understanding what a word means. This helps to keep the child engaged and build on communication skills.

7 FOSTER: Natural Curiosity

Babies and toddlers are naturally curious about the world around them. Giving them a chance to explore, touch various textures, and create memories spent with a parent allows a baby to learn how to express themselves. Also known as the Discoverer stage of communication development, babies only react to how they are feeling or what is going on in the world around them.

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As a young infant, they communicate through crying. When they get a bit older, they can use gestures and facial expressions (like smiling) to communicate how they are feeling (happy). Soon enough, they will be babbling and using different tones of voice which they have adapted from hearing those around them talk, also known as the Communicator and First Word User stage. Understanding how your baby communicates will make it easier to build language skills.

6 FOSTER: Music

Music is a universal language that all babies and toddlers are drawn to. They listen to the rhythm, use movement, and can be soothed or even excited by it. Singing songs that are familiar to your child exposes them to the repetition of words that are easier for them to learn because they can associate them to actions and rhythm.

It also allows them an opportunity to join in the fun that can be used during times of play, routine, and bedtime. Even if you can't hold a tune, your child will enjoy the experience of connecting with their parent. So sing silly songs you made up on the spot or your favorite nursery rhyme... who doesn't like music?

5 HINDER: Not Socializing

Babies are naturally social. In fact, children learn the most from other children that are at least 6 months to a year older.  Speech and language delays can happen if a child isn't frequently socialized with other children. That is why it is important to socialize babies and toddlers with other children their age to help develop not only communication but play and social skills.

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Babies and toddlers typically parallel play, which is when they play next to another child but are more interested in what they are doing and are not influenced by what the other child is doing. As they get a bit older, they learn how to interactive play, which is engaging with other children to practice turn-taking and sharing ideas. Lastly, they learn how to collaborative play in preschool years where they share, compromise, follow rules, and learn how to negotiate.

4 HINDER: Too Much Screen Time

It can be hard when you are a parent and you need your child to be distracted for a bit so you can attend to other tasks. Especially with programs like Sesame Street, Baby Einstein, and other baby-friendly videos on YouTube. However, the World Health Organization said the most amount of screen time for babies should be below an hour, but they recommend to refrain altogether.

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Too much screen-time can affect their speech, language, and cognitive development. Physical activity is needed as well, not only for health benefits but to ready their brains for learning.

3 HINDER: Not Responding To Baby's Cues Or Babbling

We all think that when a baby babbles, it's cute, but it's actually your baby trying to communicate with you. Even though you don't know what your baby is saying, not responding to their cues or attempts at communication will make them feel like they aren't being heard. Instead of responding to them in baby-talk, you can model words to build their vocabulary.

Understandably, we all take time to look at our phones or television screens when we relax. However, you need to do so in moderation to take advantage of opportunities when your baby tries to communicate.

2 HINDER: Speaking For Your Child

As parents, we might all be guilty of speaking for our child on more than one occasion. Sometimes it may be easier to answer for your child when they were asked a question because it's faster and more coherent. However, if a parent does this all the time, the child will learn that they don't have to speak for themselves, thus hindering their language skills.

When a child is asked a question, this requires them to use both their receptive language and expressive speech skills. Especially if it was a question that required more than a "yes" or a "no," try to allow them to at least make an attempt to answer.

1 HINDER: Overstimulation

We mean well when we try to give our babies and toddlers bountiful amounts of toys, stimulation, and learning activities. However, even though their brains are like tiny sponges, if you try to make your baby learn a new milestone when they aren't ready, it can actually cause a regression.

It is important to follow natural progression based on your child's level and not what you think they should know. For instance, when your child can begin an expressive speech, to help promote communication, it is important to offer choices rather than vigorous structure all the time. Letting your child take the lead encourages participation in learning.

NEXT: Chatty Parents Help Babies Develop Better Language Skills

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