Toddler Speech: Tips and Tricks with Speech Therapist, Kate
July 11, 2023
We’re so happy to have Kate, a local speech Therapist and mama, with us today on the Journal. Kate works for the Department of Education and mainly in schools as a speechie. She is mum to her adorable, curly headed toddler, Miles. Communication is such a vital part of life and teaching our children to communicate effectively is so empowering for them. We’re excited to hear Kate share some practical ways we can do this as parents!
What is one thing that makes you feel alive?
Gosh, you’d think this would’ve been the easiest question to answer. Look, I’d love to say going for a long run and then jumping into a body of water but don’t let me fool you, I haven’t done this for years…maybe I should again. Honestly though, I feel like since Miles (pictured below with Kate) came along I’ve been finding a lot of satisfaction and joy from the simple things. The post-dinner summer strolls by the water with my family, sleeping past 8am, a kid-free walk with a girlfriend, a long drive listening to a podcast by myself, having dinner as a family with some candles, just because.
What drew you to speech therapy?
Well I should’ve known I’d become a speech pathologist when my yearly school report card said something along the lines of, “Kate needs to learn when the appropriate time to talk in class is.” To be honest, I had such limited knowledge of what a speech pathologist did, even after enrolling in the course at uni. I was also one of those people who thought it was all things lisps and stutters (which really is such a small percentage of what we do in our role).
I guess I always knew I wanted to work with children. I’d worked in childcare while studying and was a nanny for a few years too. I had weighed up psychology or teaching but then came across speech pathology which at the time felt like a good mix of both. I couldn’t imagine not being able to communicate or say what I wanted to say. Knowing that I could support children or adults to do this seemed like such a rewarding way to work and now that it’s what I do, I really do love it.
I do laugh now because I wasn’t the biggest fan of English during high school yet here I am analysing words, sentences, stories and language as a whole.
As a mum to Miles, what do you do to support his language development?
Oh to be a fly on the wall at my house. Sometimes I feel like some crazy lady who doesn’t stop talking. I talk a lot with Miles, nothing formal or structured, just alongside our everyday life. When we’re out for walks, at the shops, while hanging out the washing, whatever we’re up to.
There is a strategy we encourage parents to use called narrating. It’s really just talking about what you’re doing, what you see or what your child is doing.We might say, “Listen, it’s a bird. Oh I see the Kookaburra up there” or “First sock on your feet. Now shoes on, let’s go!” or “You have the blue car, push the car. Beep Beep”. Miles is 17 months and I still do this a lot now but given that our little ones need to understand what words mean before they can say them, this is also a great strategy to help bubs under one absorb language.
I think I also try to have fun with words and get a little crazy. As Miles has been learning new words, I love to model fun sounds as he’s playing or as we see things.
“Pop!” (with bubbles)
“Ewwww!” (most nappy changes)
“Uh Oh” (as he knocks something over)
“Brrrrmmmm” (1000 times a day as a bus passes our house)
“Woof Woof” (when we see a dog) Did you know these are all considered words?
And of course, books. We love books in our house. No lift-the-flap book is safe with Miles. I usually let him choose the books. Yes, it means we can read the same book ten times that day. We mostly just talk about what is happening in the book or talk about the pictures. Miles loves to turn the pages so we really have such a short window of time on each page. At the moment I don’t always stress about trying to read the words as there are always so many things to comment on in the pictures.
What is common mistake that parents unintentionally make that hinders their child’s speech development?
I think we can sometimes find ourselves putting pressure on our little ones to talk, without realising it. It might be to say a word itself or to use the sounds in words correctly. As our little ones learn new words, they might say a word but not say the sounds correctly. You might hear them say “tup” for cup or “melly” for smelly or “wun” for run. So if they say “that tup” you can say, “oh you want that cup, the blue cup” and give them the blue cup. This takes the pressure off them. They don’t need to copy you or say it back to you.
In the same token with their language development, when we ask our little ones a lot of questions, tell our child to “say” words, not give them something they want until they say the word or tell them to “use their words”, we can unintentionally put pressure on them. Some ideas to reduce the pressure can be to:
Turn a question into a comment. Instead of “what’s this?” you can say “brrm brrm, it’s a car!”
If you know they want more banana as they’re pointing at it. Say “more banana” as you give them the banana.
Just on that too, I know it can feel so important that our kids learn to use manners. Don’t get me wrong, I see the value of manners and want Miles to use them but particularly when they’re just learning words and are only saying single words at a time, try not to get too hung up on them. When a little one only has a limited vocabulary, we want to build on words that carry a lot more weight or are more functional. How much more helpful are words like ‘more’, ‘help’, ‘done’, ‘open’, ‘up’, ‘go’ or ‘eat’, to name a few. They’re more likely to ease frustrations than ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are. By all means, you can model manners to your little ones, but don’t put pressure on your child to use them early on.
What are three ways that parents can help their children learn to communicate effectively?
Good question, there are so many early language strategies that once we know, can slot right into our days.
For our little ones who are just starting to say their first words a great strategy is to imitate and/or interpret. We can do this by watching closely what they’re doing or wanting. Look at their body language, their actions or eye contact to know what has caught their attention. Really knowing what they’re interested in or wanting can help us share the moment with them. Listen to their words or sounds. If you think you know what they’re wanting or talking about, model the word to them. For example if they say “ti ti” while cuddling their toy cat, you might say “it’s Kitty.” If you’re not sure what they’re saying or wanting, imitate or copy their sounds or actions (i.e. pretending to cuddle) and see if they notice.
For our toddlers who mostly just use one word at a time, try and add just one more word. They might say ‘bus’ and you could model back ‘green bus’, ‘big bus’, ‘noisy bus’ or ‘bye bus’. There are lots of great early concepts we can use to build on their language. Again, don’t get too caught up with manners here, think about some of the ideas below instead. You might add on:
Positional words such as in, on, under, through
Descriptive words such as hot/ cold, big/ small, fast/ slow, empty/ full
Emotion words such as happy, sad, angry
Action words such as drink, eat, run, push, jump, throw
For our toddlers starting to put two or three words together we might think about recasting. Recasting is when a child attempts to say something but it’s incorrect so we model it back to them correctly. Like I mentioned before, we take the pressure off them. We don’t ask them to say it back to us correctly, we model it to them. If your child says “her dancing”, you could say “yes, she is dancing, boogie boogie” or “he runned”, you could say, “he ran there”.
What’s your favourite mum hack?
I’m a sucker for throwing Miles in the bath mid-morning or early arvo for some mess free, contained ‘water play’. I just call it that to make myself feel like a good mum who offers messy play. He loves it and I get a chance to sit and finish a coffee. I also recently realised I can use my Apple Watch like a baby monitor with my phone (google it). Now he can bath and I can enjoy my coffee while watching him from the lounge room.
If you want to know more about what a speech pathologist does, how they could help your child or if you have any concerns regarding your child’s communication, visit www.speechpathologyaustralia.com.au
Postpartum is a wild time… you’re in a baby bubble, flooded with so much oxytocin yet you’ve never been so exhausted. You are getting to know this tiny human that you brought into the world but you’re still discovering who you are as a mother. You have a deep sense of love that came so naturally but you also feel like maybe you don’t really know what you’re doing. So many beautiful paradoxes make up that post birth period.
Ah, bath time with your little bundle of joy – it's a splashy adventure filled with giggles, bubbles, and a whole lot of cuteness! Orrrr depending on the day, it could be a screaming, get it over as quick as possible nightmare! You just never know with babies haha! We do know this for certain, that our bath time essentials make whatever kind of bath time it is easier.