Speech and language therapist Laura Seeley looks at common speech problems, and how to get your child talking
Learning to talk is one of the biggest milestones for your toddler, so it can be a major worry for you when problems occur.
Your child’s brain is hot-wired to learn to talk – it’s a basic human instinct. But there are lots of ways you can help develop her skills. Your toddler will learn more from talking and playing with you than from any TV programme – don’t underestimate what a great teacher you are!
One of the best is by simply playing with her, from peek-a-boo and raspberry-blowing as a baby, to imaginative role play when she’s older.
Comment on everyday activities – washing up, shopping and trips to the park are all language-rich topics.
Reading a story is great, but for very young toddler it might be too much – talking about the pictures is just as good.
Nursery rhymes are fun, and action songs such as Head, shoulders, knees and toes reinforce vocabulary.
These are the key ways you can help your child learn to talk and communicate well:
“When Oliver was nearly 3, he seemed to understand, but used little meaningful language,” says Sarah, 34, mum to Emily, 8, and Oliver, 3. “He saw a speech therapist and went to group sessions. After about eight weeks he was naming things more consistently and putting two words together. He still needs therapy, but he’s come a long way.”
Understanding language is crucial for the progression of expressive communication, but children develop at different rates. By 2 years, most toddlers will say between 20-50 single words, and begin to link two words together.
Annette Maloney, health visitor
How to encourage your toddler to talk:
“Lauren’s speech made it hard to understand her,” says Sarah, 40, mum to Amelia, 8, and Lauren, now 6. “After a speech disorder was diagnosed, she had specialist therapy. Her speech improved, with a positive effect on her confidence.”
There are lots of reasons why children might have difficulty making themselves understood:
As toddlers, most children make mild errors – a common mistake is to make “k” sound like “t”, so “cat” becomes “tat”. Children tend to grow out of this by age 5, although a lisp (when “s” sounds like “th”) may last longer. If other people find your child hard to understand, it might be worth considering speech therapy.
What to do if your toddler speaks unclearly:
“Jake started stammering for no apparent reason when he was 3,” says Mischa, 26, mum to Jake, 3. “Luckily he was offered Lidcombe therapy, which reinforces the behaviour you want through praise and practice. Jake is now smooth most of the time, and we know what to do if he has an off day.”
Stammering usually begins between the ages of 2 and 5 years, and while many children simply grow out of it, others stammer into adulthood. Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing who’ll have persistent problems, but there are many successful interventions.
What to do if your toddler stammers:
“Rosie found the transition to nursery extremely difficult,” says Melanie, 30, mum to Rosie, 3. “After about six months, the nursery told me Rosie hadn’t said a word since she started there. I discussed it with a private speech and language therapist and first heard of ‘selective mutism’. The therapist was very reassuring, and Rosie’s now making good progress.”
Persistent non-talking may indicate selective mutism. Your child may seem obstinate and willful, but talking is extremely stressful to her and pressure increases her anxiety. Children may talk freely at home, but if yours talks happily in one context and is persistently silent (or very reluctant) in another, speak to a speech therapist or psychologist.
What to do if your child has stopped speaking:
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