5 Ways to Boost, Build, and Develop a Child's Language

Research tells us that up to 61% of variance in child language development is accounted for by parenting style.  Caregiver language input is a critical factor in setting the stage for healthy language development.  Check out these five tips for supporting language growth and development.

Talk, talk, talk around the clock!  In a study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley, results showed that as a group, children from lower-income families hear a staggering 30 million fewer words than children from higher-income families by the time they are four years old.  This gap can set the stage for long-standing discrepancies.  We can change this by encouraging caregivers to talk more with children.  Describe the world around you when you are with your child – talk about what you see, and narrative you child’s activities and routines.

Reflect, and expand, on child language.  Parents are often the first (and best) “decoders” for our children as they are learning to talk – meaning that parents often understand them before anyone else does.  When your child tries out a word or phrase, praise their efforts (“great job saying cat!”) and reflect the language they expressed (“Cat!  I heard you say cat.”).  This is also a way to model without being critical.  For example, if your child says “doggy walk,” you can reflect and extend by saying “That’s right, you noticed the big fluffy doggie walked across the street.  The doggie walked!”

Act like a sports announcer.  One of the most powerful and helpful ways to teach language is to describe what your child is doing during play and routines.  Act like a sport announcer, giving a play by play of what is happening.  This is particularly effective for children under seven years of age.  Describing actions helps to teach concepts, vocabulary, and routines in a natural way.  This is particularly fun while children are playing.  When we describe a child’s (or our own) actions, it also helps hold attention to the task at hand – and kids love it!  Next time you are getting your child dressed, instead of firing commands, describe what they are doing (or what you are doing with them).  For example, “You are putting one leg in your pants; you are pulling on your shirt” – you might even notice that the routine goes more smoothly!

Read.  And read in an interactive way.  Reading is one the most effective ways to provide children with opportunities to develop language skills.  Books often contain words that children may not commonly hear, and provide pictures and context to help children understand the meaning of the words.  Adults can also use books to start discussions with children about the stories and pictures presented, and use books to make connections to the child’s life.  Research shows us that when adults read with children and engage interactively by asking complex questions, expanding on children’s responses, and providing encouragement, children’s expressive language develops faster than when we read in less interactive ways.

The Magic of Music.  Adults can help children develop language by incorporative music into routines and activities.  Musical activities help children develop an awareness of sound, and singing songs gives children a change to develop and proactive language skills in a fun way.  Songs and musical activities have been shown to increase vocabulary, and are linked with improvements in communication skills.


Remember that what each child needs is different.  Dr. Adams provides individual (Skype or phone based) parent coaching to address a range of concerns (e.g., sleep struggles, tantrums, limit testing, co-parenting issues).  Email Dr. Adams for more information, or to schedule an appointment at dradams@personalizedparenting.org, or learn more here:  www.personalizedparenting.org.