It’s an honour to be asked to write a guest blog for “Out of the Nest.” Like all of us, I’m constantly learning and adjusting how I parent my own children. I’m also constantly learning as a professional, as new research becomes available and improving my clinical practice. What follows, are a few insights that have come from working as a Speech Language Pathologist for the past eleven years that I hope you will find helpful.
Play, play and more play!!!!
Play is vital in assisting your child to learn about the world.Play develops alongside communication development.Play is therefore even MORE essential for children who have a language delay, to provide them with increased support and repetition to learn and communicate.Getting down to your child’s level and playing alongside and with them ensures you are communicating about the same thing. Building preverbal skills of joint attention, eye contact and turn taking are invaluable, as these are the building blocks to later communication.
Quality, not quantity!
Communication is all about connection. Children LONG for quality connection. With three children of my own, a husband who often works late and commutes a fair distance, I understand that life is busy. Whatever time you can spare in your busy schedules, (be it five, ten or twenty minutes) give your children ALL of your attention for that period. No screens, phones, emails, or chores. You’ll need your hands free, to hug, hold, investigate, explore or build. Find out what they MOST want to show to you in that moment. Once you connect fully, they are often more happy to play independently for a time and you can achieve more, before reconnecting again for another quality interaction.
When you’re unable to give much of yourself and are having one of “those days” – just aim to read ONE book to your child/ren. Fostering a love of books is a gift that sets your child up for life. Books have ENORMOUS language learning potential. They are so readily available and free to borrow from your local library. It’s a wonderful bonding/quiet time where you can stop and just be present. Books can also transport us out of whatever humdrum moment we are in, break the mood and invite us into a wonderful imaginary world. Starting to read to your children is recommended from birth.
While the normal routine for books is to read from left to right, turn one page at a timeand read all of the text, this doesn’t need to be done all the time. To use books for language learning, you do not have to follow the rules! Follow your child’s lead,turn to pages that they are interested in then try to expand their interests. Talk about what your child is looking at, use fun sounds,role-play with your child and don’t be afraid to useactions, sounds and silliness.
Challenging behaviours are COMMUNICTION, when young children have tantrums; it’s often because they don’t yet have the language or speech clarity to express how they are feeling. It’s one of the most rewarding parts of my work, to see a child who is unable to express themselves, reach the point where they no longer rely on screaming, throwing and grunting to get their needs met. If you are currently in the midst of all the screaming and tantrums, try to stay calm. You won’t be able to reason with a child that is upset and screaming, so instead, wait and look for the moments when your child is NOT displaying these behaviours. Praise and encourage their positive communication attempts and look at encouraging and reinforcing these every time you see them, rather than focusing on their less productive communication behaviours.
It is important to respond to your child’s communication attempts. When they are developing language and their speech sounds are unclear, you won’t always know what they are trying to tell you. Do your best to interpret what you think your child is trying to say. Repeat back what you believe they have said and ask them to show you. Use simple sentences to begin with, (just 2-3 words) so they are more likely to be able to copy your model and use lots of repetition. If your unsure if your child’s speech sounds are typical or you feel they are especially unclear, a speech pathologist can help.
They’ll grow out of it (or will they?)
If you feel your child is having difficulties in any area, (not just speech and language) I recommend being pro-active. I know there is a strong current of “they will grow out of it” and “every child develops at their own rate.” Which of course has truth to it, however, there are HUGE benefits to early intervention and for those children who don’t improve and need help, delaying when they receive this has a flow on effect into many other areas. So trust your instincts! You don’t need a doctor’s referral to see a speech pathologist, but you may to see other health professionals such as physiotherapists and psychologists. There is wonderful professional help available through your local community health centres however waiting lists will apply, so make the call sooner rather than later. As a parent/carer you know your child best and are their best advocate. Value your insights and remember – you are doing a fantastic job raising your little ones!