As parents, life is full of worries about our children. When they're babies, we worry when they don’t seem to stop crying and whether they are getting enough milk. As they get older, we worry if they are meeting their milestones on time or whether they are falling behind. We worry how they will cope without us at nursery or school and whether they will make friends…the list is endless!
How do I know if my child is behind?
Worrying about whether your child is keeping up is something we all do at some stage and it can be hard not to compare your child with others of the same age. However, as there is a range of ‘normal’ development, it can be hard to know if your child has an area of development they need support with, or if they will naturally catch up in time. Here's a few options if you do want to find out if they aren't meeting their developmental milestone.
1. Speak to their school or nursery
If you are worried about some aspect of your child's development, talk to their teacher, nursery teacher or childminder if they have one. These people will have lots of knowledge and experience about child development and developmental norms and should be able to talk through your worries with you, providing reassurance or perhaps giving advice for activities you can do to support your child to develop specific skills at home. If they have noticed the same things as you, hopefully they may also be able to point you in the right direction for support. However, be aware that if your child has only just started at their setting, their teacher will need some time to get to know them first, so if this is the case or your child isn’t yet in a setting, read on for some other advice.
2. Do some research
Another option is to find further information yourself, however be wary of information you may find on the Internet as not all of it will have a factual basis. If you are using the Internet, which is most of our first choice for finding information quickly, make sure you are using websites which you can trust to provide reliable information. If it’s an aspect of speech, language or communication skills you are concerned about, there is a reliable checklist at: https://ican.org.uk/i-cans-talking-point/parents/ages-and-stages/
This is broken down into different age categories. Finding your child’s age group will allow you to see what most children are doing at that age in terms of their understanding of language, the size of their vocabulary and which sounds they should be using, amongst other things.
3. Speak to the health visitor
If you are struggling to find the answers yourself or are still concerned, another option if you are in the UK is to contact your Health Visitor or 0-19 Hub for advice. You may have the telephone number in your child’s red book or can find it by searching ‘0-19 Hub' plus your local area. This will allow you to talk through your concerns with a trained professional and they may book a visit for you with a member of their team to go through things in more detail and make a plan of action.
What can I do to support my child’s speech and language development?
There are many things you can do at home to support your child’s communication skills. Of course, it will depend a little on your child’s age and stage of development so please contact us for more specialist advice but here are a few general pointers which are useful for most children:
1. Set time aside
Set aside 5 minutes per day to play with your child on a 1:1 basis if possible. Five minutes might not sound a lot but with all of our busy lives this does not always happen unless we really make the effort. During this time, put away your phone, put away any devices, turn off the T.V and really give your child your full attention to whatever they might want to play with.
2. Follow your child’s lead
When playing with your child, let them take charge of the play. Try to take a back seat and give them the time and space to play with the toys as they’d like to, with you as their play partner of course!
3. Keep your language simple
Fewer words are easier for your child to process and learn so sometimes the less said the better. Try to cut out unnecessary words so for example instead of saying ‘let’s get your shoes on, it’s time to go to nursery now’ try ‘shoes’ (pause) ‘nursery’.
4. Comment rather than question
When supporting your child with talking, it can be tempting to ask questions to see what they know. Unfortunately this is not the most helpful thing for them in terms of word learning. Try to keep questions to a minimum i.e. only when you genuinely want to know the answer. The rest of the time try to use comments instead. So for example, instead of ‘what colour car have you got?' You could try ‘you’ve got the red car!’
5. Model the correct pronunciation
To support speech clarity, model words back in the correct way. All children mispronounce words when they first learn them so often it is nothing to worry about if your child is not using all of their sounds yet. To support them with this, simply repeat words back to them in the correct way, without asking the child to say them again.
For example: Child: ‘look a tat’
Adult: ‘oh yes, a cat’
Overall, it's important if you are worried about your child, not to keep those worries to yourself as this will only make you increasingly anxious, without doing anything to help your child. The minute you reach out, whether it's to a trusted friend or family member, or a professional, hopefully this is the first step to finding the answers you need. It may also be hugely beneficial to your child for you to investigate any concerns sooner rather than later. The quicker you do this, the quicker your child may start receiving any crucial support they might need.
If you think your child would benefit from speech and language therapy, why not book a consultation with one of our fully-qualified, highly-skilled therapists. Or if you have any questions, contact us and we'd be happy to help.