As he gets older, go out of your way to involve him in discussions between family members on topics in which he will have an interest, such as which DVD to rent, where to visit or go on holiday. If he feels that he can put forward a point of view, be listened to and influence a family decision, he is more likely to grow up to appreciate just how powerful words are in their effects, and to want to learn them. If you do this, while he is at the age where he is likely to be responsive, then when he reaches adolescence, and is less likely to be co-operative, a lot of progress will already have been achieved.
If your child has a therapist he will be getting considerable help with strategies for everyday speaking as therapists really appreciate how upsetting it can be if a child is unable to communicate a simple request, such as buying sweets. Parents can support this by giving him opportunities to experience these situations and encouraging him to speak when he feels that he wants to.
Creating a rich language environment in the home to extend language skills
These everyday or functional language skills, as they are called, will be supported and supplemented by his schoolwork, where teachers will be developing these basic language skills and also extending his vocabulary and understanding of language in all its forms. He will be taught to increase his understanding of more complex language as used creatively, in discussions and in presenting an argument for example.
Parents can best help their child to extend his language skills by providing a diet of varied language at home that goes beyond the everyday and functional. They should read with their child regularly so he enjoys sounds, words and stories. Acting as a favourite character in a story helps the child to understand the signals behind language. A cross voice for a fierce story character, and a meek tone for a quieter character, can convey quite sophisticated messages about tone of voice and the variations of mood possible. This will help understanding of social language and therefore interaction with other children and adults. This particularly helps a child who stammers who may be concentrating so much on his own speaking that he needs help with picking up social signals of mood and tone in conversation.
Reading poetry, constructing rhymes and playing word games are all good means of developing an interest in language and its pleasures. Even if your child continues to stammer he will be very much helped by good language skills that give him the confidence to understand what he hears and to plan his own responses. When he comes across a new word encourage him to understand its meaning and pronounce and spell it correctly in a way that seems like a game.
Modelling an interest in language
'Standards are caught and not taught' so the parent who is seen regularly reading and talking within the family is passing on the message to a child that words matter and are enjoyable. Children who stammer, who may be finding it difficult at times to express themselves, are encouraged to speak when they see how interesting and valued words can be. They are more likely to develop the confidence to express their views, even when stammering.
Listening to your child
An important part is also played by listening in language development: we know that many adults including teachers have a tendency to dominate the conversation when talking with a child and to ask too many questions too quickly. Sensible pausing by the adult who is talking, the breaking down of longer sentences into simpler ones, giving opportunities for the child to just sit quietly and think before talking, will all help the quality of language used. The child should be encouraged to use words as he chooses, perhaps playing with rhymes and sounds and even inventing new words and phrases of his own.
When your child talks too much
Equally a child who stammers may be so anxious to have his say when he knows that he is able to express himself that he may interrupt other people's talking, and fail to listen to what is being said. Parents should listen without interrupting until their child has finished. Calmly it should be explained that his comments were very interesting, but in the same way that he was listened to he should try to listen to other people and not interrupt.
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Text for this page: Language development for the older child
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