One of the things I’m enjoying most as I work toward a Master’s in speech-language pathology and communication disorders is learning about language development in young children. Not only is it a fascinating topic in and of itself, but it’s extremely interesting to listen with a being-trained ear to my own children as their language skills are developing. Even more exciting is getting to put something that I’m learning into practice with my own kids.
A theme that keeps popping up, one that we know by instinct but aren’t always aware of, is that “caregiver responsiveness” is one of the biggest influencers of children’s language skills, especially as they are first developing language (and this begins in infancy, if not in the womb). Not only is the very fact that a caregiver responds to children’s requests for communication significant and impactful, but reasearchers have discovered that certain ways in which caregivers respond have the capacity to boost developing language.
The following are seven characteristics, distilled by Weitzman and Greenberg (2002), that are linked to improved rates of language development in young children:
1) Waiting and Listening
Parents wait expectantly for initiations, use a slow pace to allow for initiations, and listen to allow the child to complete messages.
2) Following the Child’s Lead
When a child initiates either verbally or nonverbally, parents follow the child’s lead by responding verbally to the initiation, using animation, and avoiding vague acknowledgements.
3) Joining In and Playing
Parents build on their child’s focus of interest and play without dominating.
4) Being Face-to-Face
Parents adjust their physical level by sitting on the floor, leaning forward to facilitate face-to-face interaction, and bending toward the child when they are above the child’s level.
5) Using a Variety of Questions and Labels
Parents encourage conversation by asking a variety of wh- questions (e.g., “Who?” “Where?” “Why?”), by using yes-no questions only to clarify messages and obtain information, by avoiding test and rhetorical questions, and by waiting expectantly for responses.
6) Encouraging Turn Taking
Parents wait expectantly for responses, balance the number and length of adult-to-child turns, and complete their children’s sentences only for children who are not yet combining words.
7) Expanding and Extending
Parents expand and extend by repeating their children’s words and using correct grammar or by adding another idea, and use comments and questions to inform, predict, imagine, explain, and talk about feelings.
I love these points because they are so simple to incorporate into everyday life — and they not only boost language development, but they really seem to strengthen the bond and even friendship and trust between a parent and child. Did you like them? Pass it on and see you soon!
— Weitzman, E., & Greenberg, J. (2002). Learning language and loving it: A guide to promoting children’s social, language, and literacy development in early childhood settings (2nd ed.). Toronto, Ontario, Canada: The Hanen Centre.
— Turnbull, K., & Justice, L. (2012). Language Development from Theory to Practice (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.