I’ve covered a few ways to get your child talking, but equally as important is how you respond to these efforts! Responding to your child’s communication attempts is another way to foster language development. To do this, we’ll want to provide positive and specific feedback.
Before my Montessori parents and teachers riot, I want to emphasize that positive can mean different things! The main idea is to show that we’re happy with our children’s communication efforts. You don’t have to use evaluative praise words (“good” “great” “nice” etc.) to do this, but if you choose not to, I do recommend conveying excitement about your little one’s communication by smiling or through your tone of voice.
Now let’s focus on specific feedback. Basically, we want to get away from saying “great job” and be more descriptive. By being specific, we’re letting our little ones know exactly what they did that was so great. So if your child says “mama”. You could respond by saying “Wow, you said mama!” (or even just an excited, “You said mama!” for my Montessori families). I also like to use phrases like “You’re talking!” or “Good talking!” often, because it gives young children a word for their action (talking). Specific feedback is awesome for teaching a variety of verbs and encouraging a range of behaviors! You can use it to increase nonverbal communication as well (“I see that smile!” or “You’re laughing! It’s so funny!).
There are times when we don’t really know if a child was trying to say or imitate something. ALWAYS give your little one the benefit of the doubt! Just provide positive, specific feedback and model the word back to your child (I.e. “Nice trying! Ball.” and/or “You tried saying ball! Ball.”).
In addition to verbal reinforcement, you want to try to give your child what he/she says when possible and appropriate.
For example, Van saw me drinking from a water bottle the other day and wanted it. So I modeled the word “water” and he tried to say it. So I said “nice trying! Water” as I handed him the water bottle (with the lid on). This shows him that I understood his request, AND that communicating can help him get what he wants.
There are going to be lots of times when your little one can’t have whatever he or she is try to say. It may be something dangerous, something you’re out of, or just something don’t want your baby or toddler to have. You still want to RESPOND to what your little one says, even if he or she can’t have it right then (or at all). For example, Van loves to ask for Dada and Maxx (the dog) right before he goes down for a nap. So when he starts saying “Dada! Dada!” I respond by smiling and saying, “Dada. Yeah, Daddy’s at work. Let’s go night-night”. Or with Maxx: [smiling] “Maxx. Maxx is downstairs. All-done Maxx. Let’s go night-night”. This let’s him know that even though he can’t have it, I understood him. You always want to acknowledge your child’s communication attempts! Children will likely be more frustrated if you ignore what they’re saying and it certainly won’t help them learn the importance of communicating.
There are also going to be times that you legitimately don’t know what your child is trying to say! That’s okay too! Just make sure you tell your child “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand”, then try encouraging them to show you what they want by pointing. If your child is able to show you, great, you can model the word for your child. The more they hear it, it easier it’ll be for them to say it! If your child can’t or won’t show you, you can point to some different things to see if you can figure it out (I.e. “The cup? [pause] The picture? [pause] Mommys glasses?”). Again, if you figure it out, great, you can model it! If you can’t figure it out, do not worry! It happens to all of us! Even we SLPs who are trained to listen to kids with communication delays have moments where we have no clue what a child is saying! Just don’t pretend to know what your child is saying if you don’t! Be honest, and redirect if your child seems like they’re getting frustrated, Tell them, “you’re doing good trying. But mommy doesn’t know. Let’s get more milk (or something else to move things along and reduce frustration). It always feels like such a let down when I can’t figure out what Van wants, but at his age it is perfectly normal and happens to every parent at some point!
There are so many ways to provide positive feedback! Below are some of my favorite carrier phrases for this, all of which can be adapted to be more Montessori-friendly by ditching the evaluative praise words:
“Good talking! You said xxxxx”
“You said xxxxx! Here’s xxxxx!”
“Nice! You said xxxxx”
“I heard you trying to say xxxxx!”
“I hear you talking! Xxxxx!”
“Good trying! Xxxxx!”
So this is where I’m leaving you! Try using positive and specific feedback during at least one of your daily routines this week! And let me know how it goes by liking this page or leaving a comment! I’d love to hear from you!
And one last little note for the new moms this Christmas (or any moms that haven’t heard about this yet)- Macy’s donates $1 to Make-A-Wish for every letter to Santa they receive during their annual Believe campaign. I’m not affiliated with either of these programs but it is a FREE, quick, and easy way to help other children this holiday season, so please consider taking the time to send Santa a letter on your little one’s behalf!