Initially when a baby is born, the child only speaks in gibberish, making cooing sounds and mostly just crying. A baby as young as 6 months begins to utter small words such as ‘Mama’ which is extremely endearing, especially to the parents. Thereafter, from the age of 6 months to 18 months children start picking up words from those around them and after 18 months the child starts saying 2-4 word sentences.
Many parents start worrying when their baby has not uttered his first words and has already crossed the 6 month milestone. Some children may start talking properly a little late but there is nothing to worry about as long as the baby is formulating simple words and maybe small sentences by 1 years of age. As your child grows, there are a few things that you can do to help your child speak:
1. Talk to Your Child
Always make it a point to take out some time on a daily basis to talk to your child even if your baby cannot respond in proper sentences. This may involve a lot of loving cooing sounds on your part but don’t forget to use proper sentences too. For example you can talk to your child while dressing him, telling him about each and every step as you are dressing him up: “Now I’m putting on your pamper; and now I’m making you wear your pajamas.” Make it a point never to lisp like a baby while talking to your child because although children start talking with a lisp, if you talk to them in the same way they will become habitual of lisping.
2. Break down big words into their syllables
It is important to let the child process what is being said, for example if you are teaching your 18 month old child what a thermometer is then break it down to say “thermometer”. Breaking words down into their syllables makes children learn the right pronunciation of long words. Don’t expect the child to get it right in the very first go. Initially your child might not be able to pronounce difficult words but eventually by 2 to 3 years of age their pronunciation gets better.
3. Read story books to your child
By the time your child is 18 months old they start to fully comprehend what is being said to them. It is a good age to begin reading to your child. Bedtime stories are a good way to help your child speak. Lie down next to them and spend at least half an hour reading to your child. If the book has lots of pictures, that’s even better. The idea is to get your child involved in activities that stimulate him to speak.
4. Get lots of easy-to-read books for your kid
Get lots of age-appropriate books for your child to read. Initially the books that you will get for your child are ones with the alphabet and lots of pictures. Point towards the alphabet and then towards the corresponding picture, mouthing the words clearly for your child to understand and in time imitate. For example, “‘A’ (while pointing at the alphabet) for ‘Apple’ (while pointing at the picture of the apple).” Don’t expect your child to pick up on the whole alphabet in a matter of days; it could take a while. Similarly, get books that are colorful and point towards each color while saying its name, prompting your child to imitate. Once your child has learnt the alphabets you can move on to teach them the numbers. Again use a colorful book to help you teach your child the numbers. Repeat each number a few times after pointing towards the number on the book. Soon your child will pick up on all the numbers and you will be a proud parent.
5. Get meaningful toys for your child
Don’t just buy toys like teddy bears and dolls for your child. Buy toys that stimulate learning. For example buy a play-mat that has various animals on it and then repeat the name of each animal several times to your child which will stimulate your child to learn the animal’s name. Similarly buying lego for an 18 month old child and making various objects out of the lego and then repeating the objects name will help your child learn how to talk.
6. Spend time with your kid
Even after your child begins going to playschool, make it a point to spend time with him at home too because there is nothing like individual attention and personalized teaching. Some children learn better in a group setting while others learn better when given individual attention. In playschool, the teacher may not be able to give your child individual attention which is why it is important that you spend time with your child at home. Make sure you spend ‘quality’ time for e.g. reading to your child.
7. Celebrate your baby’s success
Whenever your baby says a new word, reads a new alphabet or says the name of a new color cheer him on. Show how happy you are and enthusiastically say words of encouragement such as ‘yay’ or ‘wohoo.’ Children know that their performance is being rejoiced. You might also go as far as to incentivize your child by rewarding him with his favorite snack every time he says something new or (for older children) reads through an entire book.
8. Don’t worry
It is important to know that just because your child might start speaking a bit late it doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with him. Every child learns at their own pace. However if your child does not speak at least 15 words by the time he is 18 months old then it is best to consult your pediatrician and seek help of a speech therapist.
It is important to be patient with children. Do not expect phenomenal learning within days. Go at the pace of your child. If it takes many sittings for him to get through the alphabet book do not get unnerved. Patiently continue to teach your baby how to talk.