A baby’s first words are a monumental achievement in any parent’s eyes. It’s important to recognize that children first begin communicating with gestures and vocalizations at a very young age (e.g. smiling at you or pointing to what they want) but words don’t typically come until after a child’s first birthday. Everyday your baby listens to the conversations surrounding them and slowly begin connecting words to their meanings. Once a child develops the appropriate musculature and coordination they begin stringing sounds together (i.e. babbling) and their vocalizations begin sounding more and more like real words.
Do you desperately want to hear what your baby has to say? These five strategies will help your baby utter those first words in no time!
Monkey see, monkey do:
Before a child is able to use words, they have to learn that communicating is a two-man task. Essentials foundational skills include establishing eye contact, taking turns (e.g. rolling a ball back and forth), imitating actions (e.g. clapping hands after you or waving goodbye) and then eventually imitating speech sounds (e.g. “mmmm” during dinner time). Learning words comes down to a child’s ability to imitate what they are seeing and hearing. Start with imitating basic actions (such as clapping or blowing bubbles) and they will be better able to start imitating basic speech sounds and simple words.
Pick your words strategically:
Speech is an incredibly sophisticated process that involves precise movement and coordination of a variety of muscles in the tongue, lips and jaw. Thus, the first sounds a child typically develops involve basic movement of the lips and are located in the front of the mouth. The sounds include: "b" (as in "ball"), "p" (as in "peas"), "m" (as in "mama"), and "w" (as in "whale"). Get close to your baby’s face and practice words involving these high frequency sounds. Be sure to pause and let your baby try and imitate you!
Don’t stop talking:
Create a continuous dialogue of communication with your child. Although babies may not respond verbally, this does not indicate a lack of understanding. Talk while performing daily routines (e.g. “Mommy is making you dinner. Look carrots. Do you like carrots? Mmm, yummy carrots”). Remember to speak slowly and don’t be afraid to use a sing-songy voice. This type of communication is called motherese and is proven to help babies learn language and helps create positive interactions between parents and their children.
Hit the books, every night:
One of the most effective routines a parent can implement is story-time. Pick a time every day where you cuddle up and read your child's favorite book. Even at a very early age, research shows that reading enhances language skills and creates meaningful parent-child connections. Point to pictures and describe what you see in order to enhance vocabulary. Highlight simple one-syllable words and pause to see if your baby attempts to imitate. Even if it doesn’t sound like the true word, be sure to praise any attempt at communication as if it were intentional.
Dust off the photo album:
Although photographs have become a relic of the past, looking at pictures of familiar family members is an excellent way for children to connect names with faces. This can easily be done with a tablet or phone if you don’t have hard copies of pictures. Don’t forget to take a picture of your child too so they are able to see themselves. You can practice saying the names of family members or saying “hi” or “bye” when turning each page. Children are incredibly motivated by seeing their loved ones and it can often be enough to inspire his/her first words!
Over to you...
Do have a nonverbal child with autism who struggles with attention? Any tricks you've found successful? Share your story in the comments below - I’d love to hear from you!
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