1. Create a Reason: In order to encourage a child to talk there first needs to be a reason for them to do so. Oftentimes when a child isn’t talking we as parents tend to anticipate our child’s wants and needs, giving them no reason to use their words to make requests. So, the first thing we need to do is to stop anticipating their needs and rather create a reason. Some easy ways to do this include:
- Keeping things visible but out of reach — if your child does not have access to all the items they may want in their environment they will need to start communicating by making requests. Consider placing preferred items on countertops, or up on shelves so that they cannot retrieve these items without making a request.
- Keeping things in hard to open containers —Consider keeping toys in plastic bins, or snacks in Ziploc bags so that your child needs your help to access these items.
- Providing only a little bit — Create a natural contingency for your child to ask for more of items that they want. For example, if they ask for juice, just fill their cup up a little bit so that they can ask for more juice.
2. Model a Word and Wait: Now that your child has a reason to communicate with you, they are going to need a way to send their message and ideally this will be with words. In this case you can model the word of the item that your child wants and then wait up to three seconds to see if they attempt to say the word. If they say the word or a part of the word, that is great, give them the item! If your child does not attempt to say the word, model it again and wait. If after three times you model the word and your child does not attempt the word give them the item anyway. Don’t get discouraged, continue with this strategy as it may take a few times before your child catches on.
3. Use Routines: As with anything new that one is learning, practice makes perfect. The same thing goes with learning language, the more opportunities that your child has to hear the same words used in the same context, the more likely they will start to say those words. So, for example, the next time that you pick your child up to sit them in their highchair, take a moment and model the word “up” followed by a few seconds of wait time to give your child the opportunity to say the word. Keep doing this every time you place them in their highchair, as this will create the predictability that your child may need to begin the say the word “up.”
4. Imitate and Add a Word: Now that your child is beginning to say some words, you will want to continue to expand their vocabulary. One way to do this is to imitate the word that your child says, and then add another word that would naturally fit. For example, if your child says “cookie,” you can say, “cookie, eat cookie.” In this example your child is not only being reinforced for saying the word “cookie,” but you are introducing a new word “eat” to help your child understand in a more complex manner what they want as well as learn a new word and way to ask for the cookie in the future.