How Can I Help My Child Talk?

No matter what stage of development your child is in, there are many things you can do to help your child learn language!

The first thing you need to do is figure out what skills they have.  Once you know where your child is at with their communication skills, you can focus on what speech skills come next.  Those “next step” skills are what you can work on with your child.

What communication skills does your child have?

Think out of the box on this one.  Communication is so much more than the words your child says.  Eye contact, gestures, facial expressions, and even crying are all forms of communication! Read the descriptions below to identify how your child communicates.


  • Reacts to the world around them, but has yet to communicate with a specific purpose in mind
  • Might smile back at you, cry to communicate all needs, may begin reaching for objects, make cooing vocalizations, or even imitate sounds you make.  A child in the discoverer stage may understand simple gestures, like reaching towards you when you hold your hands out. They may be able to anticipate familiar routines and react, such as kicking and smiling when they see the bath running.


  •  Realizes they can have an effect on the world around them
  • Use gestures or vocalizations to get your attention
  • Shake their head to protest something
  • Can let you know that they want an object or action (like to get out of their high chair, or they want a drink)
  • May imitate talking- but their talking is all sounds and no words
  • Understands words related to a familiar routine
  • They might look at their shoes when you say the word ‘shoe’, or follow a simple direction
  • Shift their attention from a person, to object, and back to a person again.

First Word User:

  • Has begun using a few single words
  • Uses single signs or points to single pictures
  • May use one word for several different things
  • Words might be simpler versions of real words, like ‘nana’ for banana
  • Can follow your directions when you use gestures and facial expressions like “go get your shoes” while pointing to their shoes.


  • Usually have around 50 single words before they start putting those words together, such as ‘more juice’ or ‘up mommy’
  • Messages may be very clear and easy to understand, or you might have to look for clues to figure out what they are trying to say
  • Understand simple directions without gestures
  • Understand questions that start with who, where, and what.

Improve their current stage, or start moving to the next stage.

Once you know where your child is at, you can start improving their communication skills using the same techniques a speech therapist uses, right in your own home!

Your goal for your child should be for them to start an interaction, or take the first turn. If your child is a discoverer, their first turn might be a vocalization or a movement.  A communicator’s first turn might be eye contact or pointing, while a first word user could use a gesture or a word to initiate an interaction.  A combiner might use a short phrase to start an interaction.

If your child can already take a first turn, then your goal is to have them keep taking more turns! The more back and forth turns they are taking with you, the more language they are using and learning.

Whatever stage your child is at, you should observe, wait, and listen  (OWL) to discover what they are communicating about, then respond to them right away.

I’ve seen people suggest to parents to narrate what they are doing, or narrate what their child is doing.  Talking more to your child is a great way to build language, but if you don’t OWL, then your child will never have a chance to respond to you.  You may have to wait for longer than you feel comfortable.  Sometimes more than 10 seconds!  When you wait, you let your child feel the obligation to communicate. Focus in interaction. Are you both taking communication turns, whether the turns are words, gestures, movements or vocalizations?


Observe: Take the time to watch your child.  Pay attention to their body language, facial expressions, eye gaze, actions, and gestures.  Turn those observations into messages.  If you can figure out whats on your child’s mind, you can share a connection and start an interaction.

Wait: Waiting means more than just being quiet.  It involves three things: stop talking, lean forward, and look at your child expectantly. Your child is probably used to everyone else doing the talking for them. Waiting in this manner lets your child know that you are ready for them to respond, or even better- for them to take the lead. Waiting is hard. You won’t be used to that much silence, and your child won’t be either.  Be patient and don’t rush to say something. Follow your child’s lead, and give them plenty of time to take the first turn in the interaction.

Listen: Try not to interrupt your child, even if you know what they are trying to communicate. When you listen, you let your child know that what they are communicating is important.  You may not understand what your child is trying to say.  Try to look for clues around you to discover their message.  If you still have no idea, imitate their sounds a gestures.

When you practice observing, waiting, and listening, be patient.  You will soon find your child communicating with you more and more in ways you didn’t realize!

If you would like to see how OWL-ing can help you build your child’s language during reading, download my free guide, 5 Ways to Turn Reading Time Into a Conversation, by entering your email below.

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