Encouraging Early Speech

There are many ways to encourage early speech. Here are a few ideas:

  • Pair Gestures with Your Words – Nod when you say “yes,” wave when you say “hi.”


  • More True Toys, Less Passive Toys – If there are speech concerns, do away with all the electronic toys that do the talking and make the noises for your child. When a child plays with the Fisher-Price Farm, the child should be doing the “mooing” and “baaing” not the toys.



  • Echo Expansion – When the child says “juice?” say, “more juice?” If they say, “more juice?” say, “more juice please?” The idea is to give back their language intact and add to it. You are not requesting or requiring longer phrases, just modeling them.



  • Provide Running Commentary – Running commentary means you are talking about all that you are doing, seeing and feeling. In the grocey store I might say, “we need some apples. Mommy is going to put this red apple in the bag. Now we have two apples in the bag. I am putting the bag in the cart.” Use labels often, rely on repitition, provide functional definitions. If the child points and says “bus” giving a definition would be, “yes, the school bus takes children to school.”



  • Give Language to Their Pointing – When the child is excited and pointing, but not able to come up with the word that is needed, many parents are quick to fill it in. Let’s say the child sees a dog at the park and is pointing and saying “uh-uh-uh.” It can be tempting to say, “thats’ a dog.” Rather than that, pause, point and say, “look,” or, “what’s that?” pause for a few seconds again before you say, “that’s a dog.” You are first giving language to their pointing and then giving them time to find the word themselves before you fill it in.



  • Don’t Anticipate Needs – If all the child has to do is point toward the fridge to get a cup of milk, there is very little need for language. At least for a few seconds, not to the point of frustration, pretend to not know what they mean. Let them grapple a bit for the word.



  • Don’t Repeat Mispronunciations – As cute as they are, if there are speech concerns don’t repeat mispronunciations. Now this shouldn’t feel like a correction either. If the child says “ram-baid” when asking for a band-aid avoid saying, “no honey, it is band-aid.” This feels like a correction, and now the child doesn’t want to talk to you. Just respond in the positive with what they meant and clearly anunciate. Say, “yes, you need a BAND-AID.”


Author: Dr. Rene Hackney

With a MA in school psychology and a PhD in developmental psychology, I founded and work as a parent educator at Parenting Playgroups. Somewhere in there I trained in the Developmental Clinic at Children's NMC and in the public schools. I have two beautiful, funny children who make me practice what I preach most everyday.

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