Parents play key roles in modeling healthy ways to communicate in everyday situations. By knowing what to do in your own talking during certain scenarios, you can transition highly disfluent times to be more successful conversations. In doing this, you will be teaching and reinforcing healthy conversational skills during daily activities. The following conversational suggestions are not meant to replace therapy, but to compliment your child’s individual treatment plan.
11 Tips to Increase Speech in Your Child
- Use eye contact. Eye contact is a great conversational tool for many reasons. When you are modeling eye contact while your child is talking, you are communicating that you are listening. By using eye contact when you are talking, you are showing your child that watching someone’s face when they talk is important. In a peer situation, your child will be better able to hold his conversational turn with sustained eye contact (especially if he “gets stuck”) because other children are less likely to jump in and finish for him. The best way to elicit eye contact from your child is to model it yourself and to reinforce it when you notice it (“Great job watching my face while you told me about that!”) as compared to asking the child to “look at you.”
- Face-to-face. Try to position yourself at your child’s eye level when possible. This models healthy eye contact and also demonstrates appropriate spatial proximity while talking with someone. In addition, it may be beneficial to reinforce times you’re listening. “Okay, now I’m ready to listen to your great story about the pumpkin patch,” as your kneeling down to listen.
- Speak in a natural, yet relaxed way. There is no need to slow your speech to an atypical rate, but being very “relaxed” in your speech rate can be helpful. This conveys that you aren’t in a rush and hopefully reduces the perceived sense of time pressure during daily activities (as compared to telling your child to “slow down”).
- Model “thinking time”. While playing a game or reading a book, model thinking time before you start talking.. “Hmmmmm, I’ll pick his one.” Allowing natural periods of thinking time is healthy for increased language formulation time.
- Be a good listener and don’t finish your child’s sentences if they stuck. By finishing sentences for your child, you are not encouraging healthy, independent conversational skills. Your child may get the message that they should let someone speak for them when they are stuck on a word. Positively reinforce the times your child finishes a word or story after they got really stuck. “Wow, I’m so glad you finished that. What an exciting morning you had at school!”
- Allow your child to wait until after a transition to tell you about something. Immediately after school or transitioning between activities may not be the best time for your child to tell you about something. Some children are “disregulated” during these times and their bodies are paying attention to much more than speech. “You’re so excited to tell me about that game. Let’s clean this up first and then you can tell me about that silly pirate!”
- Talking turns. Trying to get “into a conversation” is a time that is traditionally harder for a child who stutters. Understanding how to manage multiple conversational partners can be overwhelming, but modeling successful conversational turns within your family is important. Use conversations with siblings (or one or both parents) as a way to introduce talking turns. For example, start with a game where each person has a turn and talking might be involved in each turn. “First, it’s going to be Sarah’s talking turn, then it will be your talking turn.” In daily conversations, you may prompt a child that’s interrupting by saying, “I can tell you have something to tell me. It’s my talking turn with dad right now, then it will be your talking turn.”
- Use gentle question probes, such as “I wonder…” as compared to drill-type questions during activities. For example, while looking at a book, you may say, “Wow. Look at these kids having fun. I wonder what they’re looking for…” This naturally elicits language and conversations, while multiple questions can have a different effect. “Molly, what color is this? What do you call this one? Who is this? You know this one.”
- Helping to organize stories. Help your child organize their story by structuring it with wh-questions (who, where, what, etc). “I’m hearing lots of different parts to this story. Let’s start at the beginning. Who is in this story? …Where is this story? … Okay, now I’m ready for more. What happens in this story? …” Also, structure sequential information with first/ then statements. “Okay, the first part of your story is…. And then… “
- Special talking time with mom or dad. Use everyday situations to create a time where your child gets special “talking time” with mom or dad. For example, if life is hectic when parents transition home after work, use that time to create a relaxed and predictable scenario. Possibly have a ticket for “story time” close to the front door for when a parent comes home. Then, when you get the ticket, build a fort of couch cushions or sit on mom and dad’s bed (or even in the closet with flashlights) to have your child tell 3 things from their day. Use “secret” spots to make it fun and special. What may be a high energy, unpredictable part of the day (associated with increased stuttering) can be transitioned to a fun routine at the end of the day (that decreases stuttering).
- Sentence Fill-in. During times that seem very disfluent or hard to organize, you may want to model correct sentence structure and simply the language demand for your child by starting a sentence that he can fill in. For example, if your child is stuck on the word slide, you might say, “You were playing on the …” and let your child fill in the last word.
Bonus tip: Enjoy talking with your child and let it show. Smile and reinforce your child’s willingness to communicate with you. Even if your child is very disfluent, help them to enjoy talking and convey a message that you’re proud of them. If your child tells a story and was getting “really stuck”, you can still reinforce communication by saying, “Wow. That was such a long story you told me!, I love listening to your stories. or I’m so glad you told me about that!”