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Be a Language Cheerleader

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Eager to help your child's language skills develop? Try these tips:

  • Talk to her. The "denser" her language environment, the more she'll learn. Narrate everything you do together.
  • Use correct grammar, not "baby talk." The best way for her to learn proper speech is to hear good examples on a regular basis.
  • Ask questions frequently. She'll want to answer, which will push her to get the words out. Plus, she'll learn to expect back-and-forth conversations. That, in turn, will lead to her own "why" and "where" questions ("how" and "when" come later).
  • Name the things in your child's world. And help her learn them by repeating words clearly and plainly.
  • Emphasize verbs — the action words — since they're often more difficult to learn than names and other nouns.
  • Use emphasis wisely. Use your voice to point out specific words and call your child's attention to their meaning. She'll know by your tone, slower pace, and pauses that you're doing it for her, and her ears will perk right up.
  • Use gestures to help her understand what you're talking about. Be an actor — your "performances" will help, not hinder, your child's ability to learn about words.
  • Be a little tough. Prompt your child, and gently demand that she use words to get what she wants. If you think she's able to express herself more clearly, make a mistake on purpose — for example, give her water in the red cup when you know she wanted the blue one. Give her a chance to tell you what you're getting wrong.
  • Respond to what you think she means, not the specifics of what she actually says. Repeat her phrases with correct pronunciation and form, but don't make her correct herself. She'll do it on her own if she has a good model to learn from.
  • Read to her. Hearing stories improves your child's language skills. Don't be surprised if she "reads" with you as she learns familiar tales by heart.
  • Ask your child to narrate the events of her life — help her fill in gaps and make transitions. Getting ideas connected is a big deal now. Conversations about past and future events will be the next step.

Learn more about reading to your child and other ways to encourage language development.

Helpful Hint: Never give your child a choice when there really isn't one. For example, don't ask, "Would you like to go to bed now?" No toddler worth her salt is going to say yes. Instead, try something like "It's time to go to bed. Would you like the red or the blue sleeper?" If you're not really giving your child a choice, you're asking for confusion, frustration, and a power struggle.


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