Talking Toddlers: Seven Tips to Help Develop Language Skills

Share Email 9 Comments Print Single Page Text Size -/+ By PO BRONSON and ASHLEY MERRYMAN Jan. 7, 2010

A nine-month-old child is typically developing if he can speak even one word. With the benefit of proper scaffolding, he'll know fifty to one hundred words within just a few months. By two, he will speak around 320 words; a couple months later — over 570. Then the floodgates open. By three, he'll likely be speaking in full sentences. By the time he's off to kindergarten, he may easily have a vocabulary of over 10,000 words. For years, the advice has been that the way to kick-start a child's language learning was to simply expose kids to massive amounts of language. However, as we explain in our book "NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children," the newest science has concluded that the central role of the parent is not to push massive amounts of language into the child's ears. Rather, the central role of the parent is to notice what's coming from the child and respond accordingly. With that in mind, we shared some of the scientists' hottest tips in children's language learning. 1. Baby Talk May Sound Silly But It's Really Good For Kids Baby Talk: We've all done it — that oddly sing-song, slow, giddy cadence that people suddenly use when speaking to children. There's actually a lot of research on baby talk — the scientific expression for it is parentese. Its patterns and cadence are so universal, that scholars can play a recording of someone speaking in a language you've never heard before, and you'll still know if the person was talking to a baby. Some parents are adamant against baby talk; instead, they want kids to hear adults speak normally. But that's the wrong approach. Parentese's exaggerated qualities help children's brains discern discrete sounds. By elongating vowels and stressing transitions more clearly, parentese helps a baby brain's auditory cortex recognize vowel-consonants groupings. And some use of it helps until a child's second birthday. Click here to read an excerpt from "NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children."

Tips to Help Toddlers Develop Language Skills
2. Labeling objects One of the ways parents help babies and toddlers learn language is through what's called "object labeling" — telling them, "That's your stroller," "See the flower?," and "Look at the moon." While babies may look at an object of a parent's interest, they learn more from object labeling when the parent isn't intruding or directing the child's attention. Instead, the parent is following the child's lead: object labeling is the most effective when the parent describes an object that the baby is already focused on – gazing, pointing or vocalizing. But timing

is everything: the word has to be heard just as an infant is looking or grabbing after it to make sure that the child connects the word to the right object. 3. Beware criss-cross labeling The danger in overzealous object labeling is that you might inadvertently crisscross the child: that is, don't put words in his mouth that aren't really there. Say a baby, holding a spoon, says "buh, buh." But a mother doesn't respond to the child's object of attention; instead, she responds to the the "buh" – sound the baby had made. So the mother replies with: "Bottle? You want your bottle?" Inadvertently, she just crisscrossed the baby: she taught him that a spoon is called "bottle." While proper object labeling can accelerate word learning, frequently crisscrossed labeling can slow it to a near halt.
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Language Development
Steps to Develop Language Skills
From Susan du Plessis,

Filed In: 1. Education and School

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How Language is Acquired

Parents should start talking to their little baby from the day he is born. Some mothers are by nature quiet and reserved. Others have the unfortunate idea that it is foolish to talk to their babies, knowing that they do not understand. The mother, who does not talk continually while feeding, bathing and dressing her baby, is laying the foundation for a late talker.

The baby learns language in one way only, and that is by hearing language as the parents talk and talk to it. The more a parent can talk to a child, often repeating the same words, the same phrases, the same structures over and over, the sooner the child will learn language.

An important thing to note here is that by the time a baby is about nine months old he should be able to understand simple words and commands. He may perhaps also be able to say a few simple words already. Invariably, however, one finds that the baby understands much more than he is able to say. In fact, this remains so of any person throughout his life. One is always able to understand more of any language, even one’s mother tongue, than one is able to use in active speech. This is even more so of any second or third languages that a person is able to speak.

This shows that we have two more or less separate masses of language knowledge, our PASSIVE knowledge (also called receptive language) on one hand, and our ACTIVE (expressive language) on the other. When we listen or read, we make use of our passive vocabulary, and when we speak or write, of our active vocabulary.

An important thing to note here is that the child’s passive vocabulary came into being through constant and continual repetition of words, phrases or structures. Once a word, phrase or structure has been repeated often enough, it also becomes part of the baby’s active vocabulary. This shows that the active vocabulary can only be improved VIA the passive. Research has shown that a child who is just beginning to talk must hear a word about 500 times before it will become part of his active vocabulary. Long before that it will already form part of his passive vocabulary. This means that parents should create as many opportunities as possible in which their baby can hear them talk.

The Secret of Reading to your Child

Parents should read to their children as often as possible. The secret, however, which will lead to optimal language development, is to read the SAME stories over and over and over.

In the "good old days" there was not the abundance of storybooks that there is today. Parents were compelled - it was also part of the child-rearing traditions - to tell over and over to their children the few stories that they knew, or to read over and over to their children the few books in their possession. They also spent a lot of time teaching their children rhymes and songs. As I discovered for myself through my own son, this over and over repetition of the same stories and rhymes was extremely beneficial for the acquisition of language. In fact, I took this tradition to the extreme, exposing my son to only ONE book for nearly two years.

Soon after my elder son, Gustav, was born, I bought him a book with the story of Pinocchio. The book was aimed at four-year-olds. Except for talking to him continually, I started to read to him from this book when he was only two or three months old - as often as I could, over and over and over. I found this tedious, of course. Gustav, however, loved it, and the results of this experiment made all my efforts worthwhile. Not only did he start talking much sooner than most children do, but when he was just over two years, he could recite nearly all the pages from Pinocchio. When turning to a new page, one only had to read the first word or two on that page and he would recite the rest of the page like a parrot. In itself this may seem quite useless, but of great importance was that the vocabulary in this book soon became part of his everyday speech. In terms of language development, he was soon miles ahead of his age group. In fact, to this day, his vocabulary and his ability to speak with clarity are quite astounding.

When a child is a bit older, one should start teaching him nursery rhymes. Research has shown that knowledge of nursery rhymes among three-year-olds was a significant predictor of later prereading skills even after the children’s IQ and their mothers’ educational levels were partialed out.

While an apple a day keeps the doctor away, talking forever makes your child clever!

Bringing the Lessons Home
Help Your Children: Socially and Emotional
From Einstein Never Used Flashcards,

Filed In: 1. Raising Your Children

Einstein Never Used Flash Cards Rodale, Inc.

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How can we help children blossom socially and emotionally? Read on for some specific tips.

Look for opportunities to discuss other people's feelings. By explaining how other people would feel if a particular act occurred, you teach your child to take the perspective of others. "If you hit Irving over the head with that truck, he will probably feel very bad and cry. Do you want that to happen?"

Creating a sensitive human being takes work! It often seems a lot easier to just stop vexing and dangerous toddler behavior without explaining what consequences would follow and why, and how someone would feel as a result. Of course, tomorrow someone will probably come out with a video that claims to teach your child how to work and play well with others. But that product would be a drop in the bucket compared with the power that comes from ongoing human relationships where both mind and heart are learning together. What fills the bucket is the interaction children and adults experience: a product of basic social need.

Watch your language. One way to bring up the perspectives of others is to ask your child about the characters in the stories you read together. Ask questions such as "How do you think this person (the character) feels? How would you feel if you were this person? What do you think the person's friends could do to help him to feel better?"

In fact, many of the current social and emotional programs that teach children about how to be a good person use games in which children adopt different perspectives. One example is the Interpersonal Cognitive Problem Solving program for elementary school

children, which was developed by Professor Myrna Shure of Drexel University in Philadelphia. After the adult shows the children pictures of scenes or verbally describes scenarios such as a fight in school or a moment of frustration, the children are asked, "How do you think this person felt in the story? How might you feel if you were that person? How would you want others to react to you?" At Pennsylvania State University, Professor Mark Greenberg created another program of this type called PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) that helps children talk about their feelings. These programs have been maximally effective in reducing aggressive behavior and are training children on how to understand others' minds. They are now used widely in school programs.

Explain to your child that there are causes for people's feelings. Research by Professor Judy Dunn and her colleagues at Pennsylvania State University examined the conversations that fifty 33month-old children had in their homes with their mothers about feelings and about what causes them. For example, a mother might say, "You broke my glass (the cause) and that makes me sad (the outcome)." Such conversations were just what Professor Dunn and her colleagues looked for in the parent-child dialogues.

She found that at 40 months, children differed widely in their appreciation of emotions and other minds. The results of this study tell us that talk about emotions and what causes emotions impacts children's developing theory of mind. Hearing an explanation for others' behavior does at least two things. It may help stunt the natural anger that arises when you are thwarted so you can respond more constructively. It may also help you look for such mitigating explanations on your own in future altercations. And these differences, in turn, will influence how well children interact with their peers and teachers.

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Bringing the Lessons Home
Help With Bullying and Social Time
From Einstein Never Used Flashcards,

Filed In: 1. Raising Your Children

Einstein Never Used Flash Cards Rodale, Inc.

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Stop bullying in its tracks. The extreme example of children who are not thinking of the welfare of others is the bully. If your child is frequently the target of bullies, it may be a sign that she is less socially competent and, therefore, has fewer friends and is seen as vulnerable. It turns out that children who are more socially competent and who have more friends are less likely to be bullied.

Researchers have determined that both the bullies and the bullied tend to have certain typical characteristics: The majority of victims, for instance, reinforce bullies by giving in to their demands, crying, assuming defensive postures, and failing to fight back. Victims tend to have a history of overly intrusive parenting, with parents who are controlling and overprotective. These parenting behaviors prompt anxiety, low self-esteem, and dependency, which combine to radiate vulnerability. Bullies often bank on their victim's dependency and vulnerability; they know the other child won't fight back. This makes the bully feel powerful. Of course, bullies have their own social deficits. They tend to come from families where there is little warmth or affection. The families also report trouble sharing their feelings. Sometimes parents of bullies have very punitive and rigid discipline styles. Finally, bullies feel less discomfort than average children at the thought of causing pain and suffering.

So what can be done for bullies and their victims? Preschools and kindergartens where peer socialization is integrated into the curriculum are good places to start helping them. Anxious, withdrawn children will benefit greatly from developing just one good friendship. And even when they have conflicts with their peers (yes, conflict is inevitable), they'll be learning valuable lessons in how to interpret social cues accurately. But in addition to the teaching of social skills at school, it's also important to evaluate the relationship you have with your child, especially if you suspect that he's a bully. Remember: Bullies tend to come from families where there's a lack of affection or little sharing of feelings. Take the time to ask your child how he's feeling and to really listen to his answer. When he expresses anger or rage, work with him to help him regulate his negative emotions and find peaceful ways to resolve them. Finally, when he talks about problems he's having with his peers, brainstorm with him to come up with skillful ways he could resolve them.

Finally, children who are not bullies or victims have a powerful role to play in shaping the behavior of other children. Teach your children to speak up on behalf of children being bullied. "Don't treat her that way; it's not nice." "Hitting is not a good way to solve problems. Let's find a teacher and talk about what happened." For more examples and role-play situations, check out Sherryll Kraizer's The Safe Child Book.

Make space for social time. Children sometimes just need to hang out with others or to be by themselves. It might seem as if they are doing "nothing," but there's a lot to learn from unscheduled time on their own or with other children. Children need to be able to be spontaneous -- to be able to just goof off! Creating playdates for our children helps them diversify their social world and develop additional social tools for dealing with a greater variety of social challenges. And social interactions give you opportunities for discussing emotional situations and others' perspectives. This cannot be obtained on the fly, in the car between activities, but only from real social interaction that you are present to observe and comment on and coach as the occasion arises.

If your child is in child care or preschool, be sure to build strong connections with your child's caregiver or teacher. You want your child's emotions taken seriously when he is not with you, too, and you want that emotional coaching going on whenever a conflict comes up. If you talk with the caregiver on a daily basis about how your child is doing and ask questions about how he gets along with his peers and how disagreements are handled, you'll have a better sense of whether emotional coaching and mentoring is going on. Get in the habit of building strong ties to the people whom your child spends time with just as it makes a difference when children get consistent messages from their parents, it's important that the messages they receive from their child care providers are consistent as well.

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(Continued from Page 2)

If your child is in child care or preschool, be sure to build strong connections with your child's caregiver or teacher. You want your child's emotions taken seriously when he is not with you, too, and you want that emotional coaching going on whenever a conflict comes up. If you talk with the caregiver on a daily basis about how your child is doing and ask questions about how he gets along with his peers and how disagreements are handled, you'll have a better sense of whether emotional coaching and mentoring is going on. Get in the habit of building strong ties to the people whom your child spends time with just as it makes a difference when children get consistent messages from their parents, it's important that the messages they receive from the ir child care providers are consistent as well.

While there are many things we can do to foster social development, here are some general suggestions for helping your children to tune in to their own feelings.

Avoid ignoring or belittling your child's feelings. Although often you'd wish such moments would just go away, times of emotional upset can be understood as key opportunities for teaching children how to avoid or resolve such situations, while also taking the feelings of others into consideration. View these times as opportunities to teach your children how to make lemonade out of lemons, while still allowing them to experience their feelings of hurt or disappointment. A versatile recipe for lemonade will be very useful for dealing with life's inevitable frustrations.

Try to see the world through your children's eyes. Once you do, you'll recognize that the things that cause our children pain are often different from the things that cause us, as adults, pain. You don't want to treat your children any differently than you would want to be treated when you express your emotions. How would you feel if you confided in a friend about something that bothered you and she made fun of you and laughed? Make a point of teaching your child that it's okay to show negative emotion, such as sadness or fear. Likewise, try to demonstrate positive ways of coping with your own anger and negative feelings. Remember: Your children are watching you for lessons on regulating their emotions.

The bottom line is to talk to your children and invite them to talk to you. The more you try to understand how they feel and help them understand how an event happened, the more coping skills your child will develop. And, as we have documented, social skills are essential for doing well, both in school and in life.

Reprinted from: Einstein Never Used Flash Cards: How Our Children Really Learn -- And Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D., and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Ph.D., with Diane Eyer, Ph.D. © 2003 by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D., and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Ph.D. (September 2004; $13.95US/$19.95CAN; 1-59486-068-8) Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098. Available wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher by calling (800) 848-4735 or visit their website at www.rodalestore.com.

Authors Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D., is a member of the psychology department at Temple University, where she directs the Infant Language Laboratory and participated in one of the nation's largest studies of the effects of child care. The mother of three sons, she also composes and performs children's music.

Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Ph.D., is the H. Rodney Sharp Professor in the School of Education at the University of Delaware, where she holds a joint appointment with the departments of linguistics and psychology and directs the Infant Language Project. She has also been a recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship and is the mother of a son and a daughter.

Together, the authors were featured on the PBS Human Language series and are the authors of How Babies Talk.

Diane Eyer, Ph.D., is a member of the psychology department at Temple University and author of Motherguilt and Mother-Infant Bonding.

For more information, please visit www.writtenvoices.com.

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