Boost their language skills

Whatever your toddler’s age, here’s how to help him become a confident little chatterbox

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Get her chatting away with this expert advice

Dr Deborah Gibbard suggests using words in context. ‘Shout “Ready, Steady, Go!”‘ and topple a pile of toys over. Your baby has to understand what words mean before he can use them.’

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Reading

From 6 months, introduce them to colourful illustrated books. Begin with those that only have one picture per page. Point at the pictures and describe them.

Take turns

This way babies can mimic the patterns of natural conversation. Try a simple game like rolling a ball to her and getting her to roll it back saying, ‘Mummy’s got the ball…Your turn now.’

Speech milestones

Birth-4 months

What to expect:

Your baby can pick up on your tone of voice. If you sound happy, she’ll smile, if you speak snappily she’ll get distressed and may even start to cry. She’ll also start making her first sounds like cooing while she’s doing something that she enjoys.

What you can do:

Keep talking to your child as you’re doing things, and don’t be afraid to slip into ‘motherese’ or baby talk.

5-7 months

What to expect:

At this stage, his babbling becomes more recognisable. He can say different sounds like pa, ba, ma. He’ll also make gurgling sounds when he’s playing with you, and can recognise and respond to his own name.

What you can do:

Chat away constantly to your baby and use his name frequently. Start reading to your child. Copy your baby’s sounds and facial expressions.

8-9 months

What to expect:

She’ll start to respond to your requests. If she reaches for a hot cup, she’ll stop when you shout ‘No!’ Your child might also try to copy your speech although you won’t understand what she’s trying to say!

What you can do:

Listen to what your child is telling you – even though she’s not talking yet. Read her facial expressions and gestures
to understand what she’s trying to say to you.

10-12 months

What to expect: Most babies say their first word now. Don’t panic if he says ‘eow’ instead of ‘cat’. Any word that consistently stands for the same object counts!

What you can do: Play simple games such as peekaboo and pat-a-cake. Encourage your child to keep up their attempts at talking by responding when they speak. Use gestures such as waving goodbye to help them understand the meaning of words.

Mums remember their child’s first word:

‘Mama’ Carol Dyce, 43, mum to Molly, 1

‘Teddy’ Aisling Mitchell, 27, mum to Kirsty, 1

‘Cooey’ Sandra Tear, 35, mum to Tom, 1

‘Apple’ Susan Smith, 31, mum to Jessica, 1

‘Plane’ Lydia Lewis, 29, mum to Tom, 2

‘Bye, bye’ Jenny Woodward, 39, mum to Jack, 1

What to do if you’re worried

Children develop at different rates so don’t panic if your child is behind others. Signs of real problems tend to show up at about 1 year and include:

  • Not making eye contact or responding to greetings or her name.
  • Not using or understanding single words by around 18 months.
  • By 2½, not using several two-word combinations such as ‘want milk’.

If you’re worried, see your GP for advice. For information about speech impairments, visit www.afasic.org.uk.

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For more information

  • www.talktoyourbaby.org.uk. This campaign website is run by the National Literacy Trust, and has lots of helpful information you can download to help your baby’s speech development.

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