Language is a way to communicate ideas, choices and needs. That is what we do every day with our friends, colleagues, the telephone operator or the taxi driver. It’s natural and effective. That is the idea that we want to pass on to our children; our words help us get what we want or communicate something efficiently.
What to teach first?
When our child wants to learn a new word, it would be best to choose a word that he often uses and that communicates something important for him. For example, in therapy, we often target words expressing requests, such as “More” or “Give-me”. We can also target objects that are frequently requested by the child, such as “milk” or the name of his favorite toy. These words are found in many daily situations and therefore, we call them “functional” words. The use of these words in natural situations will show our child that using language works successfully and is efficient.
What do we accept?
If language were not efficient, we would not use it. What makes it efficient is the success in using it. For example, if we were forced to speak a language that is less natural for us, it would be very frustrating if someone would correct our every mistake. This would make the learning and the use of the language less efficient and, above all, less enjoyable! This is similar to what our child faces when he’s learning to speak. We should consider that he’s learning a new language and needs to live moments of success for it to be pleasant and encouraging.
So it’s very important to accept any form of communication at first, even gestures. When the child begins to express a word, we must accept any form or part of the word. For a parent who likes perfection, this means that we should accept mistakes. For example, if he says “o” for “more”, we should encourage him since it’s already a big step from saying nothing! So we accept his version, and show him the right way to say it without forcing him to repeat. For example, we tell him, “OK! You want MORE! There! “, and then give him more immediately. We want to encourage him and show that his attempt to talk worked. This will encourage him to repeat the word again, and next time, he will have a chance to improve.
What to do?
We need to create a “next time”. We need practice situations, like when we learn to speak a new language; if there are no chances to practice or reuse what we learn, the language doesn’t strengthen and we forget it all. It’s the same principle with our children. We should create repeating situations, similar (ex. with the same object) or different (ex. with another object), that will allow the child to reuse the word he just learned. For example, we can put an object out of his reach or keep it in our hands, so he would have to use communication to get to it. For a parent who loves to ease situations for his child, this means that we should not give him everything! Let your little one face obstacles. Keep in mind that if the child does not need to speak, he most probably will not!
Briefly, to teach a word:
- Choose a useful and everyday functional word
- Accept mistakes to encourage your child and expose him to the right model
- Create a “next time”