10 Tools for Child
Peter walked into the playroom. “Daddy, for you. From me,” Penelope spoke as she handed him the tower made of Mega Blocks.
This week has been full of tear-up moments with the improvements Penelope has made in her speech. Over the past 12 months I have been a lucky parent to receive language guidance from 4 different speech pathologists in 3 different cities. Each specialist has been a blessing and a true testament to the benefits of early intervention in child development. Penelope has been one rock-star cooperater, and I can’t stress enough my gratitude towards our supportive friends and family. I feel comfortable sharing this because although our journey with apraxia has been mostly private, I know so many parents share parallel stories with their children. We all just want the best for our kids. No matter where they are, with our love, they will get to where they are meant to be.
I have dug down deep and put a lot of thought into compiling a list of my 10 most valuable tools for child language development. To many of you, the following points may seem a little overwhelming, but over time they have become the dictionary to our success with Penelope. My intention is to give this list as a summary and hit on a few of them in more detail down the road. We still have a long road ahead ourselves, but I am feeling positive and inspired to share what I have learned so far.
My 10 Most Valuable Tools
for Child Language Development
1. Child-lead Play
This is the number one hardest but most essential tool that we have used with Penelope. Enter into your child’s world and let them lead the play. Being a human camel for an hour or bouncing off a tree 20 times may not be your ideal quality time with your kid, but if that is what keeps their interest, the more inspired they will be to try new language. This is definitely a topic I would like to elaborate on.
2. Building Confidence
If your child is having difficulty communicating, don’t be that parent parading them around demanding “what does a cow say” or “say hi”. Practice these in your own home, but let their language be used on their own terms in public. It is hard to believe a young child can feel embarrassed, but most of them are just as or more frustrated than you at their struggle to repeat sounds. If you tell them they are smart, they will believe it. If you tell them, “great word, I am so proud of you” they will believe it… even if the word “caterpillar” comes out as the word “ter”, you better believe I’m am affirming that delivery!
3. Simplifying and Approximations
When it comes to sentences, pick one or two words that get the point across and make that your new normal. For example, “get in the car” was always just “car” until she could form that word… “veggie straws” was “saws”… “outside” is still “side” just to name a few. These abbreviations are much easier said than done when as adults we are used to word vomiting out complicated commands. If further interested in the best approximation card set out there, check out Nancy Kaufman’s Kaufman Cards as a great starting point. She also has this flip book.
4. Body Awareness
Help your child with gestures for them to understand person to person language exchange. Our first success was with “hand over hand” waving. Since Penelope wasn’t copying this simple movement by age 2, we had to physicaly help her do it all the time. When it finally clicked, the sound “ba” in conjunction with the wave was not far behind. Another tool for oral awareness is letting your child experiment with a moterized toothbrush. We also practice exaggerated chewing out of different sides of the mouth with veggie straws or peppers.
There is a misconception that signing can delay speech because the child uses it as a crutch, but this could not be a bigger myth. Signing only helps the child’s desire to communicate and gives them confidence that they can be understood. Here is a link to some basic signs. The ones I use most are, more, all done, open, thank you, please, help, and swing.
6. Word Affirmation
I call this tool – Mommy looks crazy, but I don’t care. If she goes up, I am saying “up”. If she is swinging, I am repeating “swing swing swing”. If it sounds like she said “ball” I am repeating “ball” in affirmation. Voicing these affirmations helps them know what sounds are right or wrong. Even if it seems they aren’t listening or processing, they are storing the information for when they are ready!
7. Slow it down
Sllooowwwww down. Take a deep breath and remember this world is new to them, every sound and word is new. As adults we are over stimulated and programmed to do faster, move faster, and talk faster. Pull yourself back, be present, and slow down.
This one is a little more subjective and specific to Penelope. She was singing tunes before she could even say words, so tapping into that natural desire was a huge avenue for us. There are so many great videos and resources at your finger tips. Our favorite movie for learning sounds is The Letter Factory. Believe it or not, the McDonalds Happy-meal toy’s from the movie Sing have been great tools with short repetitive song lyrics.
9. Exclamation and Exaggeration
Be loud, be funny, be obnoxious. See through your child’s eyes. They want drama, they want to laugh, they want to be surprised. Yes, I know this sounds exhausting, because it is, trust me.
10. PATIENCE PATIENCE PATIENCE
This should be tattooed on my arm.
I can only focused on one or two of these practices a week. To tackle them all at once would be self-defeating. I’ve learned that you can PUT YOUR HEART AND SOUL into your child and be left utterly exhausted at the end of a day with little reward. There have been weeks that I feel my efforts are pointless and the pressure I put on myself almost breaks me. I believe we all have these times as parents no matter what our child is going through. May it be sleep regressions, failed potty training attempts, picky eating, or even their unexplained urge to bite and push. God bless us. I am starting to handle these feelings better after almost 3 years of practice. I force myself to laugh a lot and smile right in their faces when they cry… it works most of the time 😉
Thank you for reading through this evolution of tips and emotion. It is so valuable to lean on others for perspective and knowledge. I hope you find some value in mine.
I’d love to see the world through those big beautiful eyes.