While social distancing and collective bouts of “cabin fever” are among the more frustrating aspects of the current lockdown, being presented with many opportunities to talk to and in front of your children is its remarkably beneficial aspect. Early parent-child communication plays an important role in the child’s ability to cognitively process and produce linguistic formations: words, phrases and sentences. Being read and spoken to, as well as simply tuning in to the parent’s everyday handling of the language allows children to grow and expand their vocabulary, to utilize syntax and grammar, and develop their own linguistic cadence.
Become a Narrator
Try to narrate your daily activities and routines as well as your child’s play. You can use one of two types of narration: self-talk and parallel talk. In self-talk you are using short sentences to talk about or describe what you are seeing, hearing or doing (i.e. “Mommy is preparing dinner. I am making some chicken soup with carrots and rice. Look, I am stirring the soup.”). Parallel talk is used to describe what your child is seeing, hearing or doing. (“Wow, you are drawing a picture. You are using a red crayon. You are making a circle.”) Remember that the goal of narrating is not to generate a response, but to expose your child to meaningful language.
“Make it bigger and give it back”
If your child says: “doggie”, repeat the word back to them, but expand the concept. Make it “cute doggie”, “loud doggie”, “The doggie is barking”, etc. That way your child will start working out how to assemble phrases and put together sentences.
Teach, don’t criticize
Few children can learn to talk without making mistakes. Don’t correct them if they get a word wrong, it might feel like a discouragement. Instead, just say the whole word back to them correctly. You might have to do that several times, but your patience will pay off, and your child will get there.
Be attentive to what you say around your child
Remember that toddlers have been exposed to our language for many months and comprehend volumes more than they can speak. Don’t mistake their limited vocabulary for inability to understand what you are saying. Model the language you want your child to adopt right from the beginning.
Written by Marilee Hartling, RN, LMFT and Yelena Tokman, AMFT