What are some things you can do at home to help your late-talking child?
One of the most exciting things as a new parent is when your baby starts to communicate with you. Communication takes many forms – crying, facial expressions, gestures, and eventually talking.
If your baby or toddler is not yet talking or not saying as many words as they should for their age, there are some things you can do at home to help.
First, it’s important to understand what the term late talker means and when to worry if your child isn’t talking yet.
What Is a Late Talker?
A late talker is a child whose language development and communication skills are not progressing as expected.
This also may be referred to as late language emergence.
Research shows that anywhere from 10-15% of two-year-olds have a language delay but only 4-5% remain delayed after three years. There is a high probability that even if your toddler is a late talker, they will catch up in about a year or so.
A late talking child doesn’t necessarily have a language disorder, which is difficulty understanding or using language. They just may be late bloomers who learn to talk later than other kids their age. Home remedies for late talking children can help improve language skills.
However, some children who are late talkers will continue to have language or learning difficulties as they get older. And for some kids, late talking is a sign that something else is going on such as other developmental delays, learning problems, or autism.
Late Talkers: When To Worry
How do you do if your late-talking child is a late bloomer or if something more is going on?
It can be difficult to know if a young child is just late to talk or if they have a language or communication disorder.
The CDC has recently updated their developmental milestones for kids up to 5 years old.
The new milestones make it easier for parents to determine if they should be worried about their child’s speech and language development.
For each age, you’ll find a list of milestones that your child should be achieving at that point in time. This is based on research and data showing that at that particular age, 75% of children have reached those particular milestones.
For example, a new two-year-old should be able to combine two words together to make a phrase such as ‘more milk’, ‘mommy up’, and ‘kick ball’. Research has shown that 75% of 2-year-olds can say two-word phrases.
If your child falls into the 25% of kids that haven’t met that milestone, there’s no reason to panic yet.
But, it is recommended to have a workup or developmental evaluation if your child is a late talker or seems delayed in their communication skills.
There is no real way to predict which children will catch up on their own and which will require intervention.
Early evaluations can help identify late talkers who will benefit from additional support and services
When To Get Your Late Talker Evaluated
Talk to your pediatrician about developmental concerns
If you have any concerns about your child’s speech development or they haven’t met the communication milestones for their age group, you should bring up your concerns to your child’s pediatrician.
Some children have language delays due to hearing issues. Conductive hearing loss can occur in children who have frequent ear infections or middle ear effusion (fluid in the ear).
If your child is a late talker or has a suspected language delay, it’s a good idea to rule out any type of hearing problems with a hearing test. You will probably need your child’s pediatrician to refer them to an audiologist.
As a former Early Intervention therapist, I highly recommend contacting your local early intervention program to set up an evaluation for your late talking child.
Learn more about how Early Intervention can help kids with delayed language skills.
Your child’s pediatrician may refer them to have a developmental assessment by a specialist such as a developmental-behavioral pediatrician or a child psychologist or neurologist. This would usually be done if they also have other delays or if there is a concern for intellectual disability or autism spectrum disorder.
Late talkers may also be referred for speech and language therapy. This will often be covered through your child’s health insurance. You can also pay out of pocket for speech therapy services.
Home Remedies For Late Talking Children
If you have a late talker, it’s a good idea to start early intervention, speech therapy, or have an evaluation to make sure there are no other developmental delays.
A “wait and see” approach may be suggested but if you can get extra support and services, it won’t hurt and will only help.
If you’re waiting for an evaluation or waiting to start speech therapy, there are some things you can do at home to help your late talker.
1. Fill their world with language
The most important (and easiest) thing you can do is talk to them constantly. Name everything you see, describe what’s happening around them. Repetition is important too. Speak slowly and clearly to your child.
A few ways to do this are by using self-talk and parallel talk.
Self-talk is when you talk out loud about what you’re doing.
For example, if your child is watching you get ready in the morning, you can narrate your actions like this: I’m putting my socks on. Now, I need to put on my shoes. All done, ready to go!”
Parallel talk is when you describe what your child is doing.
When your child is building with blocks, you can sit with them and narrate their actions. You’re playing with the blocks. You’re building a tower. Wow, that’s a tall tower. Uh-oh, it fell down. Boom!
Parallel talk and self-talk can be done while playing, talking a walk, at mealtimes, bedtime, and any other time of day.
2. Give Them The Words When They Communicate Non-Verbally
if your child doesn’t use many words yet, pay close attention to the other ways they try to communicate with you.
Late talking children will use gestures, pointing, and other nonverbal forms of communication when they want something.
Take advantage of these moments and say aloud what your child needs. Give them the words for what they are trying to say.
If your child wants a snack and is tugging on your arm and pointing to a bowl of strawberries on the counter, say something like: “You’re hungry. You want some strawberries. You can tell me: snack please.”
Acknowledge the attempt to communicate and then help them understand they can use words to communicate their needs more effectively by modeling what they can say.
3. Give them the opportunity and Reason to talk
Don’t forget to give your child opportunities to respond to you and reasons to communicate with you.
Use communication temptations to increase motivation.
To do this, you can manipulate a typical daily activity so that your late talker has to communicate with you in order to get something they want.
An easy time to do this is meal and snack time. If there is a food your child loves to eat, place it where they can see it but don’t give it to them right away. Or, put just a little bit on their plate to encourage them to ask for more once they have finished eating.
If your child is not yet talking, they may try to communicate with you by making eye contact or pointing and gesturing. If this happens, give them the words to say – “More!” You want more grapes.”
Some children may approximate a word (for example, say “mo” to mean “more”). When this happens, you can repeat and expand on what they’ve said. “More! More grapes. Here you go!”.
One of my favorite ways to use communication temptations with late talkers is while playing with bubbles.
Grab a bottle of bubbles and head outside with your little one. Blow the bubbles a few times. Narrate what’s going on. I’m blowing bubbles. Look at all the bubbles! They’re going up, up, up. Can you pop them? Pop, pop, pop!”
Stop blowing the bubbles and wait to see if your child will indicate they want more – eye contact, pointing, gesturing, or using words all count. Then, you can model what you want them to say: “More bubbles! Okay, let’s blow more bubbles.”
If they do say “more” or “bubbles”, make a big deal out of it – praise them, get up and dance, give them a hug. Let them know how much you love when they talk so they’ll want to do it again.
5. Follow their lead
Don’t constantly pressure your child to say what you think they should be saying. Especially if they’re not interested in whatever you’re trying to get them to say in that moment.
For example, if they’re coloring a picture, don’t hold a ball asking them to ‘say ball‘ even if they said ball yesterday and you just want them to do it again.
Instead, follow their lead and talk about what they are interested in at that particular moment in time.
When coloring, point at the pictures they’re coloring or at the crayon they’re using. You can say something like: “You’re drawing with the red crayon. Fire trucks are red. Tomatoes are red, too. Red is a great color.”
6. Set aside time each day for 1 on 1 play
Children learn through play.
Playing with your child can provide a supportive and fun opportunity for language development.
In particular, studies have shown that guided play is especially effective for improving speech and language skills.
In guided play, the child leads the play and the adult joins in, gently guiding the child to focus on certain learning experiences (like learning new words).
Read next: The Best Toys To Help Toddlers Talk
6. Attend playgroup or sign them up for preschool
For many late talkers, peer-to-peer interaction can help boost their speech development. Watching and observing other kids their age can have a positive effect on their language skills.
Playgroup or preschool is also beneficial for late talkers because it provides a routine and predictability to their day.
7. Read Books Every Day
Reading to your late talker at home will help increase the amount of language they hear and provide exposure to diverse and unusual words you may not use every day.
Dialogic reading is a more interactive way of reading a story with your child than just reciting the words on the page.
One way to do this is by using the PEER method.
- (P)rompt – Prompt your child to say something about the book. Point to a picture of a dog and say, “What animal is this?”
- (E)valuate – Evalute their response. Your child may respond by saying “doggy” or “woof woof” or whatever word they may have for dog. Say, “Yes, that’s right!”
- (E)xpand – Expand and add on to what they said. You can use words to describe the dog, such as “It’s a big, black dog. Just like grandma’s dog.”
- (R)epeat – Repeat the prompt. Ask you child to repeat what they said with the new words you added. Can you say, “Big, black dog?”
In dialogic reading, the goal is to have a conversation about the book with your child, asking them questions about the story or things that are happening in the pictures.
Final Thoughts On Home Remedies For Late Talking Children
If you have a child who is a late talker, try not to worry right away.
There are some home remedies for late-talking children that can help jumpstart their language development.
These include talking to them all the time while also giving them the opportunity to talk and a reason to talk themselves. You’ll want to follow their lead and start conversations based on what they’re interested in at any particular moment.
Setting aside time for one on one play with your child and reading books with them every day can help improve their language skills. You may also consider joining a playgroup or enrolling them in preschool if they don’t already have some type of regular peer-to-peer interaction.
Most children who are late talkers will catch up to their peers in a year or two.
However, there’s no way to know if your child will catch up without intervention or have a persistent speech delay. Therefore, it’s important to seek out early evaluation and services.
If your child is not meeting their language milestones, you should discuss this with their pediatrician and request further evaluation or referral for speech services. You can also call your local Early Intervention program for an assessment.
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Suttora, C., Zuccarini, M., Aceti, A., Corvaglia, L., Guarini, A., & Sansavini, A. (2021). The Effects of a Parent-Implemented Language Intervention on Late-Talkers’ Expressive Skills: The Mediational Role of Parental Speech Contingency and Dialogic Reading Abilities. Frontiers in psychology, 12, 723366. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.723366
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