Why Isn’t My Child Speaking Yet?

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The number one question I’m asked by parents is ‘why isn’t my child speaking yet?’. Truly, I would estimate nine out of ten parents worry at some point about when their child will begin to speak. You are definitely not alone if you are playing with your baby and wondering if it will ever happen.

The truth is, speaking is actually the last step in your baby’s communication development. In fact, your baby has probably already started communicating and is well on the way to using words. Babies start to ‘speak’ with you using their eyes, facial expressions, and gestures for a long time before they get around to using actual words. This is called non-verbal communication. 

Non-verbal communication is the first important step towards speaking. We just have to learn to look for it. Think about when you last read a book to your baby, or played peek-a-boo with them. Did your baby respond in some way to you, whether by gesturing to a toy they like, or even just following you with their eyes? Essentially, if you are getting facial expressions and gesturing from your baby, they are well on their way! 

If you want to motivate them a little more, here are my top three tips for encouraging your baby to start using words:

  • Comment and label what your baby is looking at using single words: 

Ok, I cheated here. This is actually two tips in one. The first is to always be on the lookout for what your child is looking at. What they are looking at is what they are interested in. Once you know what they are looking at, comment or label what it is your child is looking at. It is important to only use single words. This makes it much easier for your child to hear the word and gives them every chance of verbally producing that word. If you don’t know what to say, go with nouns (the name of the object/person e.g. ‘dog’) and verbs (actions) but don’t forget sound effects too! For example, if your child is looking at a car, you can say: “Car!…vrooom!”.

  • Drop the questions:

Asking questions when talking to children is something we are all guilty of. Think about it: how many times have you asked your child a question only to be ignored or have your child stare blankly back at you? Questions such as ‘what do you want?’ or ‘what is it?’. The biggest problem with asking questions when your child is first learning to talk is, well, they don’t know how to answer the question!

  • Use consistent intonation:

One of the quickest ways to develop speech in children is to deliberately use intonations in a consistent way. Intonations are simply the way you can say a word. The reason this is helpful is that if your child can’t quite produce the word yet, they can at least copy the intonation.

For example, there’s many different ways you can say a simple word like apple. If you were talking to another adult, you would simply say apple where the sound is flat across the two syllables. How else can we say apple? You could perhaps draw out the ‘A’ sound: aaaaapul. Or perhaps you could go with a short ‘A’ sound before drawing out the end of the word so it ends on a lower tone: a-puuuulllll. 

How you decide to say a particular word does not matter so much as being consistent with the intonations so that your child hears the sounds of the word. This way, if your child doesn’t quite have the hang of producing the specific sound, they could always produce the intonations and you will still be able to understand what they are trying to say. This is because you say it exactly the same way too!

Most importantly, remember that babies all develop at their own rate and provided they are beginning to use gestures and facial expressions it is only a matter of time until they are chatting away with you. 

For more suggestions and advice, follow me @socialskillsstrategist.

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Derek Truong – Social Skills Strategist.
Certified Early Start Denver Model Therapist
B. Sc, Hons (Psychology)

 

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