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Simple Strategies to Help Children with Speech Development

Early intervention teaches parents and caregivers simple strategies to help with their child’s development. As therapists get to know each child and their family, they can guide them towards the strategies which may work best and provide additional resources and coaching. Below are five common strategies that may be recommended for children with speech delays or difficulties.

1) Follow the Child’s Lead

This strategy is helpful in many early intervention situations with children who are less than three years old. Older children need to learn how to follow an adult’s lead to prepare for listening to teachers at school. But from 0-3, children are easier to engage if they take the lead in what they want to do.

For example: If a child pulls out a baby doll, we’ll have a more productive time if we allow them to play with the doll and tailor our strategies around that type of play instead of trying to get them to do something else. If the child doesn’t naturally show interest in anything, we may pull out various toys and see what they seem most excited about.

2)  Speak to Your Child

This sounds simple, but many parents don’t realize how important it is to talk to their child before their child can talk back. Hearing adults talk helps babies and toddlers learn language and communication skills. All you have to do is comment on what’s going on while interacting with your child. 

For example, if they’re playing on a slide, you could say things like, “You’re going up the slide. You’re going down the slide. Whee, that’s fun!”

3) 3 to 1 Comment to Question Ratio

When talking to children, some adults have a tendency to ask a lot of questions, like, “What are you doing?” or “What color is this?” This can be discouraging for children who are still nonverbal or don’t have the knowledge or vocabulary to answer. It's better to provide comments about what is going on around them rather than bombard them with multiple questions. The goal is to provide them with language and not make them feel like they are always being tested. A good rule of thumb is to make three comments before you ask a question.

For example, when you’re playing with blocks, you could say, “This block is red. This one is yellow. Our tower is five stories tall. What will happen if I push it over?”

4) Modeling

In this strategy, parents model what they want their child to say by saying a word and then waiting and giving the child an expectant look to encourage them to say the word back.

We want to make communication a positive experience. If the child doesn’t repeat the word, it’s best not to try more than three times in a row so they don’t get upset or frustrated.

5) Plus 1

Once a child starts using single words, the Plus 1 strategy can encourage them to string words together to make simple sentences. After a child says a word, a parent can repeat it and add another word before or after to increase their utterance length. At the start, it’s best to add single syllable words that the child already knows. As the child starts speaking more, the parent can add new or slightly longer words.

For example: child says, “cup” and parent says, “red cup.”

Or child says, “Mommy” and parent says, “Up, Mommy.”

Not recommended: child says “run,” and parent says “grasshopper run.”

In Summary

Every child and family is different. Assisting with a child’s development is a learning process for everyone involved. Early Intervention therapists and teachers are trained to provide personalized support to suggest the best strategies, make sure parents understand how to use them, and adjust course as necessary. This article isn’t meant to replace early intervention, but instead give parents a taste of the types of strategies to expect. If you suspect your child may need early intervention, please have them evaluated. Early intervention services are free in Pennsylvania and help children develop the skills they need to thrive throughout their lives.

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