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How to Encourage Speech and Language Development in Children

Updated on July 16, 2012

I am not a licensed Speech Therapist. I am a mother of two children who have participated in at home speech therapy. While the speech therapist is a licensed professional, our therapist only visits our house every other week. It is important for me to pay attention and understand what activities she is using to encourage speech and language development in my toddler. Not only is the therapist working directly with my child for forty-five minutes, she is training me for ongoing, daily speech therapy.

I quickly learned multiple ways to continue my children’s speech development between sessions with the therapist.

Six Ways to Encourage Speech in Young Children

  • Use simple, descriptive language
  • Use choice questions
  • Interpret and expand child’s messages
  • Repeat and pronounce words correctly
  • Let your child lead
  • Try your best to understand your child

Keep Language Simple

Instead of:
Try saying:
Johnny, go over to the other room and get that toy for me, please.
Johnny, get red ball please.
Here is the cup that you like to drink from. Use it for dinner.
Use red cup to drink.
Go get your shoes so that we can go to the park together.
Get blue play shoes. Then go to park.

Use of Simple and Descriptive Words

My children entered speech therapy at different ages. One was age three and one is currently in speech therapy at age two. The first thing I learned was to keep my own language simple and descriptive. Take every opportunity to expand and reinforce your child’s development.

Refer to example on the right.

These commands sound simple and they are. It is important for your child to hear the important words and be able to complete the request you have made. In the midst of completing the task correctly, you are reinforcing words such as red cup or cup to drink.

Use Choice Questions Instead of Common Questions

Common Questions
Choice Questions
Do you want a drink?
Do you want orange juice or milk?
Do you want this one?
Would you like the red cup or the blue cup?
Do you want to read this book?
Do you want bunny or duck book?

Use Choice Questions

Common questions can be correctly answered by saying yes, no, this one or that one. Choice questions require a specific answer.

Refer to examples on the right.

Proper use of choice questions will allow for language development and builds confidence in your child.

Attempt to Understand what your Child is Saying

My son used his speech to tell me he wanted an orange cup
My son used his speech to tell me he wanted an orange cup | Source

Expanding Upon Your Child's Language

Son: Shake, shake.

Me: Oh, you want your orange cup!

Son: Yes

Me: Drink from orange cup?

Son: Yes

Me: Help Mommy get orange cup.

Son: “Oran Cup” (son attempting to imitate)

Me: Yes! You are right! Orange cup!

Interpret and Expand upon your Child’s Message

My son will approach me and tap me on the shoulder and point to an object. He may even say, “Shake, shake” which is what he calls his cup. My first job is to interpret his message and encourage a conversation.

Refer to example conversation on the right.

While it would take less time to just understand that my son wanted the orange cup, reach over and hand it to him, he was attempting to communicate with me. Seize these learning moments and begin a conversation back and forth.

Pronounce Words Correctly with your Child

Son: Chee!

Me: Cheese, please?

Son: Chee, please.

Me: Yes! Cheese. Yum yum!

Son: Yum cheese! Tank you.

Me: Thank you? You are welcome!

Repeat and Pronounce Words Correctly

Baby talk is only cute in babies. Take every opportunity to pronounce words correctly and correct grammar usage. It is not necessary to tell your child that they are incorrect. Simply reiterate what your child said stating the words correctly. This is helpful in older children as well.

Refer to example on the right.

Repeating back to the child the correct way to ask a question or say a word reaffirms proper language use.

Using Impromptu Play to Start a Speech Conversation

Son playing with red truck
Son playing with red truck | Source

Let Child's Play Guide Conversation

Son: Mommy, truck.

Me: Mommy play with blue truck

Son: Truck.

Me: Mommy, blue truck. Johnny, red truck.

Son: Red Truck.

Me: Yes! Red truck. Red truck go vroom.

Son: Vroom! Vroom!

Me: Yes! Vroom! Vroom red truck.

Let your Child Lead

Forced conversations with children with speech delays are rarely productive. Conversations are most productive when they are impromptu. Notice that your child is playing. Start playing next to him/her and include speech in your play.

Refer to example on the right.

Depending on the age of your child, these may be a three or four series conversation. If your son or daughter misses his or her turn, continue your descriptive play. The child might resume interest. Do not be discouraged.

There are times when a conversation comes to an end and it is okay to simply let it end.

Attempting to Understand Your Child

An example of what to do when child is asking for juice:

Son approaches and says, “Joo”

Me: Johnny, you want chews?

Son: No, mommy, joo.

Me: Johnny, do you want juice?

Son: Ya. Joo.

Me: Oh, juice. Good! Here is some orange juice in your red cup.

Son: Joo!

Me: Yes! Sit down. Here is orange juice. Careful with red cup.

Son: Oran Joo.

Me: Yes! Orange juice in red cup. Good!

Try to Understand your Child

Children with speech delays can be difficult to understand. While you are frustrated that you cannot understand your child’s request or comment, he/she is frustrated as well. They are using speech to communicate and their messages are not understood. Do your best to understand your child. Do not dismiss their words.

An example of what not to do when child is asking for juice:

Son approaches and says “joo”.

Me: Yes, Joo. Uh huh. You are right.

The child becomes frustrated and says, “Joo” again.

Me: Yes, you are right!

At this point the child becomes more frustrated. They want juice and you keep saying, “Yes, you are right" or agreeing with them. Listen to your child as best you can. They are not asking for confirmation. They want juice!

Refer to example on the right.

Notice the parent took more than one time to understand the child. Once the message was understood, using simple and descriptive language, the parent communicated that the message and the child was happy.

Speech Therapy Quiz

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I am a Speech Teacher

Parents of children with any sort of delay must learn how to best meet their child’s needs. I learned that I speak quickly, in long sentences and did not often use choice questions with my children.

When my oldest son, now seven, was three, I began learning how to use simple, everyday opportunities to encourage his speech and language development. I enrolled in a three month class called the Hanen Program, which teaches parents how to encourage speech in their young children.

When my two year old was not stringing multiple words together, I had him evaluated and he began speech as well. His teacher comments that I really am an easy mom to work with. I laugh because I have been through one child in speech therapy and I have read, It Takes Two to Talk, used in the Hanen Program. There were many little things that I learned on the first round of speech therapy and during my class and have tried to implement these with my youngest son.

Most importantly, I have learned that there was nothing that I did to cause my sons’ need for speech therapy. I have three children without any speech delays at all! My pediatrician reassured me that their speech delay originated the moment the ‘sperm hit the egg’. It is innately part of my child’s development and there was no need for guilt.

I have embraced that while my children have qualified for speech therapy sessions, I am now their daily speech teacher. Try these techniques with children with or without speech delays. You will be surprised at how much more effective your conversations become and how much less frustrated your child will be.

Now, that is a win-win for everyone!


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    • twinstimes2 profile image

      Karen Lackey 5 years ago from Ohio

      Great information, Greatspeechcoach!

    • profile image

      greatspeechcoach 5 years ago

      Jellygator, please see the following website: to see if this is your definition of "tongue tied". Oftentimes, children diagnosed with ankyloglossia "tongue tied" have problems with swallowing and other oral movements, thus, may need to have a simple medical procedure. For an expert opinion please check with your child's pediatrician and dentist.

    • twinstimes2 profile image

      Karen Lackey 5 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks for reading, Natasha. After spending more time with my kids and their therapists, I wished I had taken some speech therapy classes when I was in school. There are so many ways to activate the mouth, tongue and mind that I am learning. My 2 year old has a long way to go, but he is improving!

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      We talked about language development and speech therapy for about 6 hours in one of my classes this past spring! I hadn't realized there were so many different common 'problems' and we learned about some interesting ways to help kids overcome their difficulties. I'm sure my professor would have loved your video and hub!

    • twinstimes2 profile image

      Karen Lackey 5 years ago from Ohio

      Holy cow, raggededge, I am not sure experts know what to do with teenagers! :) That is a tough one. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

    • theraggededge profile image

      Bev G 5 years ago from Wales, UK

      Very useful information for parents with young children, whether or not they need speech therapy.

      Now, what do you suggest for monosyllabic teenagers? :)

    • twinstimes2 profile image

      Karen Lackey 5 years ago from Ohio

      Jellygator, I omitted those filler words to keep the sentence simple. My son is trying to imitate exactly what I am saying. He can only string a few words together so it is best to only use the most important words. As he improves, we will add 'the and a' back in. Excellent question. I hope that a few of the tips can help you with your grandson as well. Speech delays can be challenging! Best of luck!

    • jellygator profile image

      jellygator 5 years ago from USA

      Interesting. My grandson is a bit "tongue tied" and is a bit harder to understand. This will be helpful. I have one question, though. I notice that your sentences omit "the" and "a" in your examples. What's the reason for that?