The two must-haves for building your baby’s speech are a quiet environment and your undivided attention – hard to achieve in this day and age. Of course, any baby who is around people will learn to talk anyway, but if you want to help yours develop vocabulary faster, here’s how:
Set a regular talk time
Dedicate half an hour or so every day to talking with your child – perhaps during mealtime or bath time. Maintaining eye contact, say a short, simple sentence (“Baby likes carrots” or “Baby is in the water!”) and then pause for a response. Even if his reply makes no sense to you, it’s still a success; he’s learning the ebb and flow of conversation.
Speak to your child in a natural but melodic manner
The singsong quality that so frequently accompanies talking to infants helps them decipher our word breaks, allowing comprehension to begin.
Imitate what your baby says to you
“If she says, “Doggie!” repeat back to her, “Yes, doggie!” You’re not stunting her growth by reinforcing baby talk; instead, you’re showing her that talking is fun and that people will respond to what she says. But do not expect or ask your baby to imitate you. No matter how great the temptation, resist the impulse to coax her to “Say ‘Daddy.’”
Praise your baby
When your little one says something (even if you can’t understand it), rev him up. Like adults, children respond best to positive messages. By the same token, avoid negative statements (a helpful universal directive for parenting – if a profoundly challenging one). No matter the age, no one wants to be told he’s saying something incorrectly.
Follow your baby’s lead
Talk about the things that interest her moment to moment. If she hands you a block, talk about it: “This a white block” or “Thank you for the block” or “Do you want the block?” (Don’t forget to wait for her reply). If she moves on to a toy car, talk about the car.
Of all your baby’s important milestones, her first words may be the one you’re waiting for most impatiently. But try as you might, it’s just not possible to “teach” a child to talk before she’s ready. What you can do is encourage her burgeoning language skills through play, says Marian Marcario, a New Jersey based speech-language pathologist.
Peek-a-boo is one of many activities that do much more than entertain your baby, Marcario says. Games that involve eye contact, turn-taking, pointing and other gestures also help babies master crucial developmental building blocks so they can start learning how to communicate on their own.
Here are six fun ways to promote your baby’s language development at home. You don’t need fancy toys or gear – just a few simple and inexpensive “tools,” like bubbles, cotton balls and a baby-safe mirror, are all it takes to help unleash your baby’s inner chatterbox.
Game 1: Body Language
Think of this activity as a lesson in lip-reading and labeling.
Age: 4 to 12 months
Equipment: An unbreakable mirror
Benefits: Focuses baby’s attention on how the lips and tongue move to form words.
How to Play
Sit down with your baby in your lap and hold the mirror in front of both of you (or sit in front of a full-length mirror). Point to your eyes, ears, nose and mouth, telling your baby the name of each part. Then take his hand and help him touch the different parts of his own face, clearly naming each one as you go.
Soon, he’ll be able to identify them when you say the names, and eventually speak them himself. For an extra giggle, amuse your baby by making monkey noises in front of the mirror and see if he’ll do the same.
Game 2: Get Bubbly
Babies can’t help but be attracted to the shimmering movement of a bevy of bubbles. They also love to see them pop.
Age: 6 to 18 months
Equipment: Soap bubbles – store-bought or homemade
Benefits: Encourages baby to practice some of the earliest consonant sounds – P, B and M – and to breathe more deeply.
How to Play
As you blow the bubbles, talk about what’s happening by repeating the words “up,” “pop,” “bubbles” and “more” in short phrases. (“Bubbles go up, up, up! Let’s pop them. Pop, pop! Look – bubbles! Do you want more bubbles? Yes! More bubbles!”)
This game also encourages your baby to point to the bubbles and reach up to touch them. That helps open up her rib cage and in turn encourages deeper breathing and increased vocalization.
Game 3:Â Get on the Bus
Age: 6 to 24 months
Equipment: Just you – and the lyrics if you don’t know them, or a recording to sing along to.
Benefits: Songs paired with simple hand movements help children learn the natural cadence and rhythm of language as well as how to imitate gestures.
How to Play
Show your baby how to perform the song’s gestures by sitting in front of her and taking her hands in yours as you move them along to the words. She won’t sing back at first, but the important thing is that she’s watching your mouth move. Later, leave off a word of the song and let her to chime in with what she’s learned.
Game 4: Phone a Friend
The power of make-believe fuels language development.
Age: 6 to 24 months
Equipment: A play telephone or any object that even vaguely resembles a phone
Benefits: Having a pretend conversation might feel silly to you, but it’s the perfect chance for your baby to practice turn-taking–an essential conversational skill.
How to Play
Pick up the “telephone” and greet the caller with an animated “Hello!” Continue the conversation, offering your child the phone (“Here, it’s for you–say hi to Grandma!”). If he hands it back to you, say “Oh, it’s for Mama? A call for Mama?” to help your baby start to identify you by name.
Game 5: The Right Puff
A simple game translates into crucial skill development.
Age: 16 – 18 months
Equipment: Cotton balls or colorful pom-poms. (Remember never to leave a child unsupervised whenith these small objects are within reach.)
Benefits: Coordinating lips and lungs to blow air is a vital skill for making sounds – and it can be tricky for a baby at first. This game is a fun way to practice.
How to Play
Place the cotton balls or pompoms on a table or the floor and show your baby how they move when you blow on them. Seeing them dance away will captivate him, and he’ll want to try and do it himself. You can use your fingers to help push his lips into a rounded position.
Game 6: Hide and Seek
Looking forward to the day you hear your baby say, “Yo, Mama”?
Age: 16 to 18 months
Equipment: A favorite stuffed toy
Benefits: In time, a game like this will help your baby learn how to call someone’s name to get his or her attention. Plus, repetition of words promotes imitation and labeling, and uncovering a toy introduces the concept of object permanence (that people and things still exist even when they can’t be seen, heard or touched).
How to Play
Hide the toy and go on a hunt for it. Call out as if you expect the toy to respond: “Bear! Where are you, bear?” Keep the phrase simple and use the same words every time so that your baby will find it easy to imitate you.
More Simple Steps to Language
- Give your baby a chance to “talk” while you play together, advises Marcario. By pausing to let her answer (even if she doesn’t have any words yet), you’re letting her know that your turn is over and it’s her turn to make some noise.
- Be sure to reward every your baby’s vocalizations that your baby makes, says Marcario, even if they’re way off target, Marcario says.. “If you’re trying to get him to say ‘book’ and he says ‘buh,’ praise him and repeat the target word. ‘Book! You said book! Here’s the book!’ You want to build his confidence and teach him that an adult will give him what he wants if he uses language.”