Words Are Free

One of the greatest programs for improving your child’s speech, language, and listening is at your disposal right this very minute.  It costs nothing, takes little time, and anyone can implement the program.  The results are proven, and they are powerful.

What is this miracle cure?  It’s simple… TALK TO YOUR CHILD!  Talk about everything, talk all day long, talk a lot, and then talk some more.  If you feel ridiculous, then you know you’re doing it right.


Did I mention that this “miracle program” has proven results?  In 1995, two researchers, Betty Hart, Ph.D., and Todd R. Risley, Ph.D., conducted a study to measure the words per day spoken to toddlers with parents who were professionals versus toddlers with parents who were working class versus toddlers with parents who were on welfare.  Among other things, they found that the amount of words children heard in their toddler years had long-lasting effects, correlated with greater vocabulary growth, higher IQ, and better educational achievement.  Read more about the Hart and Risley study HERE.  This is doubly important for our children with hearing loss, who need even more exposure to language before they begin to produce it themselves.  Though new technology gives deaf children a greater ability to “overhear” and pick up language incidentally, the more chances we can give them to hear correct speech and language models, the better!  Remember, children have to hear thousands of words before they are able to understand them and use them for communication.


Maybe you already speak to your child a great deal, but are getting “stale” and using the same old topics and techniques over and over again.  Maybe you’re not a naturally talkative person, and this constant talking to your child with hearing loss feels very uncomfortable and unnatural to you.  Whatever your current comfort level, here are some tips to help you start, or expand, your toolbox of talking techniques:


  • Narrate.  Be like a radio announcer describing a football game.  Since the listeners cannot see the action, the broadcaster narrates all of the details.  Talk about what you are doing (“Now I’m going to stir the batter in the big red bowl.  Next, I’ll put in some chocolate chips so we can make our cookies”) or what your child is doing, seeing, or interested in (“You made a tall tower.  Look at all the blocks you used.  Uh-oh, I think that tower is going to fall down.  Crash!”)


  • Talk about what you hear — birds on your morning walk, horns honking on your drive to school, a thunderstorm outside the window.  Point out sounds to your child, and supply the language your child needs to make sense of the experience (“Wow.  I heard a big boom outside.  That was some loud thunder.  I think a rain storm might be coming.  Do you see the big gray clouds?”)


  • OWL: Observe, Wait, and Listen (from the Hanen Program). Follow your child’s lead.  Where is she looking?  What is she trying to do?  What is she telling you without words (grasping for something, holding up an object with a quizzical look, etc.), and how can you supply the words she needs for the situation?  What is she saying, or trying to tell you?


  • Be a good listener.  Even though this post is about talking, part of the communicative process is being a good listener.  Honor your child’s attempts at communication, though they may not be perfect.  There are specific times for targeting specific speech and language skills, but in conversation, try to correct them more naturally, by providing your own correct model.  Listen to what the child means, not just what he says, and then reinforce correct production with your own model.  For example, if the child reaches for the baby cats and says, “Titten!”, you could respond, “Oh, you want a kitten?”


  • Add talking to daily routines.  Think about things you do a million times a day — changing diapers, washing hands, making a meal — and think about how you can increase the language you use while doing these everyday activities.  Narrate what you are doing, add new vocabulary, or make up a song or rhyme.


  • Don’t baby your baby.  Expose your child to higher levels of language by providing synonyms to commonly used words.  Don’t get stuck in a rut using one word to describe things.  If you always say, “Wonderful!” when your child does something well, next time, try saying “That was magnificent!  How wonderful!”  By providing a new word linked with your old standby, you give your child a clue to build meaning and add to his language library.


Remember, you don’t have to have a lot of education, or perfect grammar, or a huge vocabulary, or a million dollars to talk to your child.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, and it doesn’t have to be a special, set-aside part of your day.  Just up the “talk factor” in activities that you are already doing with your child.  You can do it!


How do you converse with your child every day?  Are you a natural chatterbox, or do you find talking difficult?  What are your favorite “talking tips”?

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