“There have been fewer meltdowns in class after the therapy,” says Cristina Buzogany, Romanian mum-of-two-based in Dubai. She’s referring to the speech therapy sessions she had enrolled her five-year-old child in. “Emotional management improved significantly as once he managed to properly express himself, his frustration levels decreased. He still has some social challenges, but most of the time he’s great,” she adds.
Learning to translate thought to words is an important developmental milestone in a child’s life. Sometimes though, they might need a little help.
Wondering how your child is doing?
Be aware of the milestone moments. Jessica Neely, Dubai-based Speech and Language Therapist at Camali Clinic, explains: “Babies start out babbling at seven months, which morphs into single words at around 12 months and by two years of age, they have learnt to string words together to form simple two- and three-word phrases. By age three, we can actually have conversations with our little ones!”
As we trudge through the era of the pandemic, it leaves traces on us – for the young ones, the mark that is emerging – anecdotal evidence suggests – is delayed lingual skills. Neely says: “An increasing number of children of toddler age are being referred to speech and language therapists due to communication concerns. Is this a result of pandemic factors? We don’t know. We do know that babies who reached toddler age during the pandemic have had little to no access to nursery environments with their peers, and when in nursery are spending a lot more time being spoken to by adults wearing face masks. More research is needed to ascertain the exact impact of the pandemic on babies and toddlers communication development. However, in the meantime, to limit any potential long-term risk, parents should foster a language-rich environment in the home when the face masks are off.”
How do I foster a language-rich environment?
Model language through the day: “The easiest way to create an environment that’s full of language is to model language throughout the day. Simply speaking about what is happening in your toddler’s environment and repeat, repeat, repeat. For example, if your child is playing with a ball you might say ‘ball’, ‘bouncy ball’, ‘red ball’, ‘my ball’, ‘throw ball’. The word ‘ball’ is repeated multiple times and in different ways. Research shows that a child needs to hear a word multiple times before they will use it,” Neely explains.
Follow your child’s lead: “Another way is to follow your child’s lead. See what they’re interested in and again talk about it. Imitate any gestures or sounds your child makes to help them develop turn-taking skills and conversational skills,” Neely suggests.
Screen time concerns: “In order to foster a language-rich environment, there has to be lots of face-to-face interaction and language. That means limited or no screen time,” says Shonali Lihala, chief play officer at Katie Jane Dubai, which offers baby-toddler classes.
“I understand how overwhelming it can be for parents to find time to relax, especially in households where they are balancing having a toddler along with helping other children attend to online learning. If you rely on TV or iPad to give yourself a break each day, by all means do it but limit it as much as you can. Too much screen time has been linked to delayed expressive language skills. The research recommends no screen time before 24 months,” adds Neely.
Tack on a word: More than questions and answers, commenting promotes language comprehension without the pressure of children having to reply. Add to existing words, yes, that's a green car, that car is fast. Don't hesitate to use big vocabulary around children like Tyrannosaurus rex, explains Lihala.
Use proper names: Use appropriate names for items instead of slang, like instead of mmm mmm, say food, she adds.
If you rely on TV or iPad [for your toddler] to give yourself a break each day, by all means do it but limit it as much as you can. Too much screen time has been linked to delayed expressive language skills. The research recommends no screen time before 24 months
Use pauses to encourage conversation: Neely, who works with children aged two to five, says: “I advise parents to avoid using teacher talk when creating an environment that’s full of language. Teacher talk is asking your child a lot of questions and not giving them the answers. We don’t want children to feel pressured to talk, it should be an enjoyable experience. Give your child time to talk and model the answers for them. Use expectant pauses and set up the environment to encourage them to talk. For example, placing their favourite toys out of reach, only giving them small bits of their favourite snack at a time or setting up surprises around the home e.g. a banana in their sock drawer! All of these are fun reasons to communicate with you!”
Manipulation is key: There’s lots of parent-friendly advice out there on how to foster language-rich environments, especially on social media platforms. If you’re struggling to encourage your toddler to speak, follow some social media speech and language therapy accounts like @speechieindubai that offer simple tips that parents can incorporate into the daily family routine. Speech and language therapists won’t ask you to sit down and commit two hours every day to talking with your child. That’s not feasible for you or your toddler. Instead, we provide advice on how you can manipulate your toddler’s environment to encourage communication throughout the day, says Neely.
Wondering if it’s time to consult a specialist?
Trust your instincts, says Neely. “Parents should always trust their gut. Don’t use the wait-and-see approach. We hear about the ‘terrible twos’ and ‘having a three-anger’ and of course people reflect on gender. Many well-meaning family members, friends and strangers will tell you things like, ‘Oh he’s just a boy. My son didn’t talk until he was three years old’ or ‘girls are quiet babies’. I would encourage parents to not put down daily communication struggles to these things alone. If your child is reaching 18 months and has less than 20 words, or reaching the 24-month mark and not combining words, see a speech and language therapist to take things up a notch.
“You’re either going to see rapid results and never regret it or your child will present with increasingly obvious vulnerabilities and you’ll be able to say thank goodness I got on to this early. Checking in with the speech and language therapist for some guidance isn't a commitment to therapy for the rest of your life, but it’s certainly something that can give parents confidence and help them give their child’s language development a bit of a boost.”
Have a topic you'd like us to discuss? Write to us at email@example.com