What can I do at home?
If your child has speech and language difficulties there are lots of things you can do at home to help them to feel more confident with speaking and understanding.
One thing we have learnt from the speech and language therapists is never to tell a child they are making a sound or using a word wrongly, but simply to model it back to the child correctly.
So if they point to the cat and say, "Tat."
You say, "Yes, that's a cat."
It is very important that children develop confidence with language and are not afraid of getting it wrong. The crucial thing was that they wanted to communicate with you about the cat, not that they said the word correctly!
It is also important that children feel that language is useful and that it is a way to express themselves.
They need to see that you are listening to them when they speak ...
...and you need to show them that you expect them to listen when you speak.
This can involve things like making eye contact with the child when you or they are speaking and responding to what they say by making a comment or asking a question.
Make sure there is some time in the day when the television is off and people are talking without lots of distracting background noise.
If your child has difficulty with understanding, make sure that you:
- Keep your sentences short and simple
- Only give one instruction at a time
- Support their understanding with visual clues (eg. pointing to their coat when you want them to put their coat on)
- Slow your speech down
- Give your child plenty of time to respond when you ask them something. Count to 10 in your head before you jump in and answer for them.
- Don’t re-phrase questions if they don’t respond to you. Ask the question again using the same words, or they will have to start again with trying to understand what you said.
- Take time to read to your child and enjoy stories together. Talk about the stories with them. Discuss what might happen next in a story, how they think a certain character is feeling, what sort of story you think it is etc.
- Try not to ask too many questions. This is difficult as we tend to often communicate with children in questions (What did you do at school today? What’s that animal called? What does a duck say? etc.). Try to make more comments and encourage them to join in, as this both takes the pressure off them to answer a question and models the language and phrases for them: “I had a sandwich and an apple for lunch today. I wonder what you had."
- Help them to understand sequences of actions by using “First / Next” language. “First wash your hands, then it’s tea,” rather than just telling them to wash their hands.
If your child has seen a Speech and Language Therapist (SALT), they will probably have given you exercises or activities to do at home with your child.
Playing is an excellent way to develop 2-way communication in your child.
Children with language difficulties are often quite resistant to doing activities with other people and prefer to do their own thing, so you have to find the right moment and follow their lead to get them interested.
Useful things to play would be:
- Pretend games, where you pretend to play out familiar scenes, like having a cup of tea, going to bed or going shopping.
- Imaginative games, where you use toys, such as dolls, farm animals or dinosaurs, to play out simple stories.
- Turn-taking games, such as rolling a ball or building something. Keep it to only two people to start with and use phrases like, "My turn. Your turn."
- Eye contact games, like 'peek-a-boo' or making faces at each other.
- Singing songs and rhymes, helps children to tune into the sounds and rhythms of language.