Father and Child

One of the most anxiety-inducing topics for parents of babies is speech and language development. As a Speech-Language Pathologist, I am often asked by parents why their baby is not talking. Of course, we all want our kids to be early bloomers in every way, but the reality is that there is a wide range of what is “normal” when it comes to babies’ speech development. Often, parents compare their child with another who may be a bit further along with talking and assume the worst.

We recommend first taking a good look at the major speech and language milestones for babies. If your baby is off-track with all or most of the milestones for her age, your best bet is to call your school district’s speech-language pathology department and request a speech and language evaluation. A Speech-Language Pathologist will be able to tell you if your baby is not talking due to a problem that can be identified and treated. As with most problems, the sooner the problem is found and worked on, the easier it is to fix.

Regardless of whether your baby is an early or late bloomer, there are lots of ways you can boost her speech and language skills. One of the best is asking her questions! Now, you might think, “If my baby is not talking, why would I ask her questions? She can’t answer them and she probably doesn’t even understand them!” Well, the technique I’m about to describe is going to help your little one understand and answer questions sooner rather than later. Most kids can eventually understand and answer lots of questions, but the kids that can do this sooner have more language to build on, which gives them more language to build on, and so on, and so on. When it comes to language, “the rich get richer…”

The questions you want to start asking first with your baby are “who,” “what,” and “where” questions. These are typically the three types of questions that kids learn first. The best way to help your baby learn to understand and answer these questions is to get into the habit of asking who, what, and where questions throughout your day: during everyday routines, while playing and reading, and when you’re out and about. Your baby needs to hear them a lot. There’s a specific way to ask questions with your baby that will allow her to get the most out of it. It goes like this:

1. Ask a simple who, what, or where question about what your child is focused on. When you use  language that reflects what your child is interested in at that moment, they are better able to process and hold onto what you’ve said.

2. Pause while looking at your baby. This is crucial. This teaches your baby that conversation consists of talking and listening. With questions especially, this pause teaches him that questions are supposed to be answered.

3. Answer the question simply. What you’re really doing with this part is teaching your child the meanings of the words, “who,” “what,” and “where.” You don’t want your response to be so complicated that he misses the point.

So, let’s say your baby is playing with a set of rings. You could ask, “What do you have?” Then pause while looking at him. Then you could say, “You have rings!”

Here’s another example…let’s say you’re dressing your baby and he’s focused on you and what you’re doing. You could say, “Where is your sock?” Then pause while looking at him. Then you could say, “Here’s your sock! It’s on the floor!”

One more example…let’s say you’re at the grocery store and you notice that your baby is watching another baby. You could say, “Who is that?” Then pause while looking at her. Then you could say, “That’s another baby!”

Notice that in all these examples, the questions:

  • started with “who,” “what,” or “where,”
  • reflected what baby was already focused on
  • were followed by an expectant pause, and
  • included simple answers.

It’s never too early to ask your baby questions as long as you follow the above guidelines. Whether your baby is not talking yet or is talking up a storm, this question-asking protocol will boost her speech and language development. You’ll be amazed when she begins to actually answer them! Have fun asking your baby questions and please feel free to email us or leave a comment if YOU have a question!

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Written by Susan Coon, one of the founders of Simply Smart Kids, LLC. You can read Susan’s bio here: Who We Are

Simply Smart START! P.O.W.E.R. Tools® provide a complete, research-based system that teaches parents the five most powerful strategies for raising a smart, successful kid. To learn more, check out our product page.

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