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How can you make kids speak sooner?

By Darlene Dunn
Published On: Aug 21 2012 03:04:53 PM CDT
Updated On: Jul 22 2009 04:23:01 AM CDT
Baby playing with toys

©iStockphoto.com/(clintscholz)

Asia Roebuck, at 18 months old, throws a ball while playing and tells her mother, "Go get it." Her mother, Susan, feels that the girl is on the appropriate schedule for pronouncing words and talking in short sentences.

Roebuck, an educator, says she reads to Asia daily and they also watch a DVD from the "My Baby Can Read" system every day. "I think the DVD helps her to talk in complete sentences," Roebuck says. "She seems to be advanced for her age and has excellent comprehension."

Roebuck says she also talks to Asia with plenty of expression to help her pronounce words and attends a weekly baby reading club.

"I want to do everything possible to make sure that she is on schedule or perhaps advanced in the way she expresses herself," she says.

Jeremy Sweet, author of "The Talking Baby," says other simple tricks and techniques encourage a child to speak sooner.

He says that a baby speaking sooner will "prevent frustration and stress" for the parents.

He adds that many parents wonder how to soothe an upset, crying child. A small vocabulary can help to open that channel of communication.

Talking Can Alleviate Stress

The book, co-authored with his wife, Karina Sweet, an elementary school teacher, offers tips such as acting like a real-life cartoon character full of silliness and emotions.

"Stick a toddler in front of the Weather Channel and watch how fast she toddles away. But flip on Sesame Street and notice her eyes glued to the tube," Sweet writes. "The same philosophy can be applied to how we can encourage our babies to speak or communicate."

The approach also involves teaching animal sounds, names and practicing repetition. The book offers the 3 R's rule: recognize, reward and repeat.

This means that if a child says or attempts to say a word, parents should recognize it and show interest. At this stage, it is also important to recognize what they are interested in or reaching for.

Reward means offering kisses, applause and hugs as well as "hoorays" and "yays." And of course, it is crucial to repeat the word back to the child.

Sweet says that his techniques proved to be successful with his 2-year-old son, who had a vocabulary of about 10 words at 5 months and about 100 words by the time he was 1. "By 1-and-a-half, he was conversing with anyone," he says.

Typically, by 3 months old babies are cooing and also using different cries for different needs. At 6 months, they begin to babble using repetitive syllables. By 12 months, a baby should be imitating sounds and words. By 18 to 24 months, two-word phrases should be emerging.

By 3, a child can tell something that has happened to them with minor speech articulation and grammatical errors, explains Rebecca Schraner-Klinenberg, a licensed speech language pathologist.

Sweet adds that it is important to provide an environment that is conducive to learning, so there should be plenty of picture books, musical instruments, colors, activity toys, doodle boards and magnetic drawing screens around. Parents can also use items outdoors like trees, grass and leaves to teach words, as well as food.

"It's all sort of play," he says. "They will have a love of learning."

Music Can Keep Babies Engaged

Sweet, who is a musician, says that music and singing should be infused into the learning to talk sessions. He says a musical instrument will be an attention magnet to keep the baby happy and engaged.

"You don't want to do anything to stress them out," he says. "It's a fun way to learn."

Schraner-Klinenberg believes that children talk when they are ready.

"Parents cannot get their child to speak early, but parents can provide a positive, stimulating environment that encourages both verbal and non-verbal communication," she says. "The goal of speaking is not talking, it is communicating with others. This includes smiles, pointing, shrugs, imitating gestures and sounds, and eventually words and phrases."

Get On Their Level

Nevertheless, she believes in providing a playful, educational environment to stimulate verbal growth. Schraner-Klinenberg says the best way to get toddlers talking is to get on their level. This means getting on the floor and following their lead.

"Imitate the sounds and words that they are saying, expand on their ideas and model simple sentences for them," she says. "Toddlers love physical play, lots of action -- peek-a-boo, silly faces and things falling down. They also love lots of repetition and over acting."

Schraner-Klinenberg says that DVDs and tapes are valuable tools and books are her favorite "but there is no substitute for interactions with a real person."

"Most importantly children need to be held and talked to. Communication is a multi-sensory experience and watching a screen will never have the same impact as a real person in a real-life situation," she says.

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