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What you can do to support your child

A toddler and her grandmother looking out of a window together

There are lots of different things parents and families can do to support their child’s speech and language development. 

Communication development is important, as it provides the essential foundation for all other areas, including learning, reading and writing, making friends, confidence building and positive behaviour and the supportive things you can do with your child, are often quick, easy and free or low-cost.  Essentially, you are your child’s first teacher!

Talk and play with your child

  • Talk about everyday routines and simple things with your child, right from the moment they are born.  For example, during nappy changes, tell your baby what you’re doing and have a ‘conversation’.

  • Respond to the sounds and gestures your baby makes, as they are still communicating, even if they can’t use words yet!

  • Have fun with different sounds, words and facial expressions and never be afraid of looking or sounding silly, your baby certainly won’t mind!

  • Use lots of repetition!  If you say things more than once, it helps children to understand what you mean and they may copy you and learn new words.  For example, “up we go” every time you put them in their high chair.

  • Repeat your child’s early words and phrases back to them.  This shows them that you are listening and will encourage them to keep talking.

  • Try to make some time to play with your child every day and ensure you give them your full attention, so put your phone away and turn the TV off!  Let them lead the play and just join in by copying what they are doing and using simple language to comment on the play, such as “you’re feeding teddy”.  Young children don’t need expensive toys, so keep it simple and use everyday items around the home, including plastic bowls, wooden spoons or a towel to play peekaboo.

  • Give your child the motivation to communicate.  Even though you know them well and understand what they want or need, give them the chance to ask for things before you step in.  For example, if they’re pointing at the fridge, because they want a drink, ask “what do you want?” before you fetch it.  You can also model your answer around “oh, you want a drink” and emphasise the name of the thing that they want!

  • Dummies may be helpful to soothe young babies, but try to wean your baby off the dummy by 12 months old.  Dummies stop babies from babbling, which is an important step in learning to talk, which can be difficult anyway, so they need lots of practice!  A dummy may stop your child from chatting with you, so if your toddler’s still using one, always take it out, before you talk to each other.

Songs and rhymes

Singing with children is a great way to support their language and speech development.  The rhythm and repetition helps build the skills children need for many of their developing communication skills and future reading skills.  Letting them watch songs and rhymes is good, but it’s even better when you sing them together!  Try to sing slowly to give your child time to hear and remember the words.  

A toddler and her dad reading together

Sharing books

Sharing books together is another great way to support a child’s language development.  Your local library offers access to a fantastic range of free books for under fives, using the special My First Library Card.  There’s also the popular Bounce and Rhyme sessions, held at libraries across Herefordshire, with lots of songs, rhymes and musical instruments.  To find out more, take a look at the Herefordshire Libraries website.

A drawing of a squirrel and a hedgehog holding a my first library card banner

Local information and support

Herefordshire and Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust has a range of free and useful resources, you can use at home with your child, including rhyme time and messy play activities.  There’s also advice on play, interaction, understanding language, speech and literacy.

National information and support

BBC Tiny Happy People offers a wide range of tips, advice, activities and play ideas to help you develop your child's communication skills.

BookTrust provides a fantastic range of resources, which can help you and your child to find books and start reading together with confidence, including the Bath, Book, Bed booklet, which features Daddy Pig.

Family Lives has a great range of short Let’s Sing Together films, which feature real families singing nursery rhymes with their child.  If you’re a bit rusty on the words or not very confident about your singing, these can really help. 

The National Literacy Trust has some great information for parents, including top tips for talking to your baby and young child.

The NSPCC Look, Say, Sing, Play resource helps you not only to bond with your baby, but also 'build their brain' with fun and easy daily activities.

Top tip 2

If your child is talking, but not quite using the right words or sentences, try not to correct them.  Simply repeat the words or sentence back to them correctly.

For example…If they say “we gone shops”, you could say “yes, we went to the shops”.

This helps your child to learn the correct way to say things, whilst building their confidence to keep talking!