Speech delays can occur in children for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the delays accompany other developmental disabilities, but they can also be the result of a structural problem with the mouth or a hearing impairment. Whatever the cause, speech delays can be very frustrating for both parent and child. If you suspect your child is not reaching speech milestones, talk to your pediatrician or contact a speech-language pathologist. You can take steps to help your child develop her speech and language every day at home.

Read

Start reading to your child by age 6 months. Use picture books and point to objects on the pages as you state the name of that object. As your child grows, read books with textures she can touch, and let her point to the familiar objects to try to name them. After that, try rhyming books and books like Brown Bear, Brown Bear (one of my daughter's favorites) that allow your child to predict what will happen next.

Engage

Even when your child is just a infant, make sure you talk to her consistently. While you are folding the laundry, give her the play-by-play, such as, "I am folding my green shirt" or "These are Daddy's brown pants." When she starts babbling, talk to her and pause like in normal conversation so she has the opportunity to "answer" you. Engage with and encourage your child every chance you get whether at home or out by using simple language, singing, listening to and naming sounds, and asking questions. Avoid describing past or future events, and stick to what is happening right now.

Repeat and Reinforce

When your child starts talking, repeat the words she says and enhance them by putting them into simple sentences. If she is pushing a toy car and says "car," you can respond with "Go, car, go." Always give her positive reinforcement when she speaks, without worrying about perfecting her grammar. Refrain from using baby talk.

Have Patience

Don't force your child to talk. If your child points to something she wants, don't try to make her say the name of the object, or ask her to use her words. Simply ask her, "Do you want the ball?" or "Here is your cup" while handing it to her. Not allowing her the object she wants because she isn't stating its name will frustrate her and cause her stress.

Even when your child is too young to speak, she is absorbing language. As a parent, you are her first teacher, so make sure you are always communicating with her and getting her any extra help she may need if she isn't hitting language and speech milestones.

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