Developmental milestone: Talking
What you can do
Reading to your child is a great way to boost his language skills. Books help a child add words to his vocabulary, make sense of grammar, and link meanings to pictures, says Desmond Kelly, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician who works with children with learning and language difficulties at the All Kinds of Minds Institute in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Likewise, simply talking with your child helps. Many parents find mealtimes and bedtime are a great opportunity to touch base. These may be the only pauses in a busy day when you have a chance to chat with and really listen to your kids.
When your preschooler doesn’t know the word for something, he’ll probably ask, “What’s this?” That’s your cue for helping him expand his vocabulary, including adding on words that he may not have asked for. For instance, if he points to the garden and says, “pretty flowers,” you could describe them to him: “It’s the pink and white roses that smell so nice.” You can also help him find words to describe objects and ideas he can’t see. For instance, if he’s trying to tell you about a nightmare involving a witch, ask him whether the witch is wicked or kind. Then have him describe what she wears, what she does, and whether she’s good at riding a broomstick. This word game can serve two purposes: Your child can express his feelings and fears as well as increase his vocabulary.
Your preschooler may still get stumped by pronouns, such as “I,” “me,” and “mine.” While the words are easy to say, the ideas behind them can be hard for a youngster to grasp. So resist the urge to correct your child’s speech when he misuses a pronoun. Instead, model the correct use of these tricky words in your own speech. For instance, say: “I would like your help” instead of “Mama would like your help.”
What to watch out for
If your child doesn’t talk, says few words, and doesn’t seem interested in communicating or expressing his feelings, seek help. A child who pauses frequently, constantly struggles to get words out, or simply gives up and says “never mind” a lot is also letting you know something is wrong. A preschooler who drools when he mispronounces words may have a physical component to his speech difficulties and may need professional help. And a child who has a history of ear infections along with pronunciation problems may have some hearing loss. In each of these cases, talk with his pediatrician, and, if he’s in preschool, with his teacher. His preschool may refer you to an early speech and language intervention program (usually coordinated through the county or public school system) that will provide a free speech and language screening. Or his doctor can refer you to a private speech-language pathologist for an evaluation.
Children in kindergarten speak in smooth sentences, and words pop out easily with no apparent effort. At this age your child should also be able to comfortably tell you what happened, describe people, and ask questions clearly. He’ll make up stories, explain what you do with common objects, and recount events that took place in the past with accurate detail. At school, he’ll start to figure out the finer points of grammar, punctuation, and word usage.
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