Ways to Support Speech Development
As speech is one of the most advanced forms of self-expression, the extent to which we are able to use language to express ourselves will be related to our ability to do so in general. Children are masters of unrestricted self-expression, and when offered enabling environments, they will look for all possible opportunities and tools to creatively express themselves without fear of being judged. This is because they are emotionally available.
However, this natural gift may be restricted by poor pedagogy and parenting to the point that a child might start to become emotionally affected and as a result withdrawn and not able to express themselves freely. Such emotional turmoils might cause speech delays not related to medical conditions, and it is important to offer holistic support that is in line with the principles of Responsible Pedagogy.
Develop Positive Relationships
This is by far the most important and most effective tool of all. The main principle is to model positive behaviour and communication, and focus on child’s efforts and successes rather than on failures. This means creating enabling environments for the child to explore the world safely, offering them opportunities to be creative and discover their skills and talents. Although such activities might not seem directly linked to speech development, they will offer your children comfortable space to express themselves and will prepare them to use speech as a form of self expression.
Your relationship and communication with your children should be based on partnership where the child is given chances to demonstrate their choices and preferences, and where these are taken into full consideration and influence the way you and other adults organise the environment for them.
Encourage Unrestricted Creativity
As speech is essentially a form of creative self-expression, children’s creativity in general should be encouraged. It is important to promote it in a gentle way without putting any pressure on a child, allowing them to decide when and how they want to express themselves. When they need to be loud, instead of saying “No,” make sure they can make noise and be loud — but in a safe way and an appropriate place.
If they want to jump and move around, make sure there is enough space for unrestricted movement and that they do not hurt themselves or each other while doing so. If they want to run barefoot, make sure it’s warm enough and the floor is free form obstructions. If they want to be messy, organise a messy play and provide appropriate resources and props. This way you are allowing your children to express themselves, boosting their confidence, building positive relationships and fostering the understand of their own emotional world to the point (and beyond it) that they are willing to share it with others using words or other means of self expression.
Playing with sounds and one’s own body should also be encouraged, but always make sure you participate in such activities as well. Making funny sounds using your lips, tongue, fingers and other body parts is a very effective therapeutic tool and helps to release tensions of a physical and emotional nature.
Boost Children’s Confidence
By offering praise, appreciating children’s efforts, and allowing them to take risks safely, you will help them become more confident about themselves. This in turn will encourage kids to try out and explore new options and extend their skills. For children, exploration and play is a form of self-expression, and by making good use of them they become able to understand themselves and the world.
On the other hand, restricted exploration may often lead to frustration and may limit the opportunities for children to express themselves the way they want and need. By the same token, negative attention and feedback may be emotionally disturbing, may lower their confidence, and may discourage children from sharing their emotional world with others, which in turn may result in speech delays.
Talk and Show That Communication Matters
If you want your children to be natural speakers, they need to know there are natural reasons to speak. Some of those reasons include sharing their feelings and emotions, communicating the things they find important, learning about the world, looking for help or advice, or simply being understood. Paradoxically, if they feel they have already satisfied these needs without words, they will be even more excited to stretch their skills and push to higher levels that entail speaking and verbal communication. This is because children have a very strong natural inner urge to stretch their skills, to achieve, and to learn. They will keep striving provided they are offered safe, welcoming and enabling environments. As soon as they realise that verbal communication opens the door to exciting experiences and new forms of self-expression, they will try to speak by all means.
You can support this process by talking about the world, discussing things with your children even if they are not ready yet to respond verbally, asking them questions, reading books and telling stories, and modelling meaningful and positive communication with other children as well as adults. You may also introduce your children to the animal kingdom communication — as children love animals in general, they will definitely become excited about the sounds they make and the ways the communicate. This can be done regularly and as part of broader cross-curricular activities.
Be Emotionally Available
Emotional availability means you are able and ready to share your feelings with your children and that you talk about how you feel about yourself, others, and the world. This brings about a spirit of openness, honesty and trust, and it creates a safe and welcoming environment for your children to grow. Experiencing adults using words to talk about themselves sends a message that speech is a means of self-expression and a key to building positive relationships based on mutual trust and understanding.
Self expression is natural and easy for children, provided they are not limited in pursuing it. The most effective way of supporting small children in developing their speech and communication skills is to build a positive relationship with them whether we are parents or Early Years professionals.
Vito Matt & Magdalena Matt are Curriculum Developers and Instructional Designers for e-learning courses, interactive workshops and conferences, and educational mobile app games.