I’m Not a Big Talker… So How Can I Help My Child Become One?

Some parents were born for Auditory Verbal Therapy.  Even before discovering that their child was deaf or hard of hearing, they had the gift of gab.  These are the people who could talk to anyone, never lack the right thing to say, and love having long conversations with friends.  But not everyone is like that.  What if you’re a quieter type.  Can AVT still work for your family?  How can parents who aren’t big talkers still help their children develop speech, listening, and language?  


First, I think it’s important to recognize that there is room for ALL types of parents, families, and parenting styles to succeed in AVT.  Some cultures place more emphasis on child-directed speech, while others focus more on children listening and observing their elders.  Some parents were born for AVT and could talk to a brick wall, others are naturally more reserved.  Both types of parents (and anyone in between!) can learn to help their children.  Just because you’re not a natural chatterbox doesn’t mean that AVT won’t work for your family.  The key is to find a therapist who can guide and coach you to maximize your natural abilities as well as learn new skills to help your child.


Regardless of your natural inclinations, talking to your child is crucial.  Researchers have found that, on average, children who are high performers in kindergarten and beyond were exposed to 30 MILLION MORE WORDS than children who are low performers and who struggle in school and even have lower IQs (Hart and Risley, 1995).  The more parents and caregivers talk to their children, the better.  Your talk today makes a serious change in your child’s brain development.  A language-rich childhood puts him on the path to success for a lifetime.


So how do you do it?  For parents who aren’t natural talkers, I suggest trying a few concrete strategies, rather than feeling like you have to pull conversation out of thin air (being put on the spot is enough to make anyone choke!).  I encourage parents to pick one of the strategies below — whichever one feels most comfortable to them — and try it out for a few days.  If it works, great!  Keep going!  If not, pick another tactic from the list and see if it helps you.

  • Be a radio announcer.  Think about how radio announcers describe the events of a baseball game to an audience that cannot see the action.  They provide rich, descriptive language and create a picture with their words.  You can do the same for your child.  For example, if he picks up a toy, talk about what that toy looks like – its color, size, texture, shape, what the toy does, how you can play with the toy, etc.  

  • Be a news reporter.  Think like a reporter – answer who, what, when, where, and why questions about any object that interests your child.  For example, if he picks up a sock, you could say, “That’s the baby’s sock.  He wears it on his foot.  It’s so little!  It’s a little yellow sock for baby.”

  • Remember SMIRPS.  Remember SMIRPS: Simple Meaningful Interesting Repetitive Phrases and Sentences.  Give your child full language (sentences vs. Ball… Ball… Ball) that is predictable and repetitive (he needs to hear it many times to crack the code of language), and keep it interesting by following your child’s lead and talking about things that interest him.  Use an expressive voice with lots of melody and intonation.

  • Talk about what you enjoy.  Maybe you’re not a big talker overall, but everyone has something they’re good at doing, something they like to do, a favorite hobby, sports team, or activity.  Use that as a springboard to share your interests with your child.  It’s easier to talk about something you love.

  • Recognize the power of listening.  Maybe this is your strength!  While it’s important for a child to hear lots of good language and conversation, too much of it becomes talking at, not talking with, the child.  Listening is very important, too.  Sometimes quieter parents have mastered the art of waiting, which is a very good skill to have!  If you’re more of an observer type, watch what your child does, likes, or is interested in — and then speak up and comment on that.  Listen to what your child says, and then expand it by adding more descriptive words or making his one or two words into a complete sentence.

  • Read!  Books already provide the text for you, so you have a springboard of what to say and can add your own ideas by commenting on the pictures, the characters, asking questions about the story, etc.

  • Don’t judge yourself.  Some parents feel intimidated because their grammar isn’t perfect, or they have an accent, or they don’t consider themselves “smart enough” to be their child’s first and best language teacher.  Throw those ideas out the window!  To your child, your voice is perfect and beautiful and exactly what he needs to grow.  Your words, spoken with love, are powerful.  Don’t let self-doubt hold you back.  If you make mistakes or feel silly, you’re doing it right!


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