Part of having kids is teaching them how to communicate, whether you’re teaching your toddler a new word or helping your teen ask for a raise at work. We spoke with several of our speech therapists who are also parents to get the inside scoop. How do they approach speech and language with their own children? How do they practice speech at home, and which toys do they recommend to help with language growth? Is there anything they wish they’d done differently?
In this article we share their tips and tricks, as well as how being a parent has affected their views on communication development.
“What’s something you’ve learned about teaching your own children speech and language?”
Meg Kearns, M.S., CCC-SLP, said she's learned to be more flexible. “Children are not in a textbook. Not every trick or style works for every child. Even when you have all the knowledge on how to promote language, they may want to do it their own way, on their own time. Allow your kids to do things the way they want or need. Don't be too rigid.”
Meg adds, “Also, their development is not linear. Just like they may have had sleep regressions as a baby or toddler, their language can ebb and flow throughout their development.”
"Development is not linear. Language can ebb and flow throughout a child's development.”
Robin Vincent, M.S., CCC-SLP, agrees. “Try not to sweat exact milestones. Look at your kiddo as a whole child. Some areas develop for some kids faster, and others need a little push, maybe with speech therapy. The need for a push does not mean your child isn’t successful and amazing.”
It’s true that every child is unique. Your child’s language progress, or when they hit certain developmental milestones, may not match other kids. While we always recommend speaking with a speech therapist if you suspect any communication delays, remember to take a step back and see your child for who they are. Notice their strengths, their personality, their likes and dislikes. Speech and language development is important, but it’s only one part of your child.
How speech therapists practice speech at home with their children
At Expressable, we’re all about finding functional, everyday ways to help your child with their speech and language skills. And we know that the more you practice communication at home with your child, the faster they’ll make progress. Practice is easier when you weave it into your daily routines, during times like getting ready for the day, playing with toys, reading books, or even riding in the car.
Here are a few tips from speech therapist mamas for practicing speech and language skills at home.
Andrea Lund, M.S., CCC-SLP, said, “It has pleasantly surprised me how much our little ones want to join in on daily activities and help us! There are so many opportunities for sweet moments of connection and teaching this way.”
Watch for what sparks your child’s interest. Maybe they like “helping” you sweep the floors or put clothes in the laundry. Maybe they love coming along when you walk the dog. When your child is motivated and interested in an activity, it’s a perfect chance to work on their speech and language.
Natalie Hricik, M.S., CCC-SLP, offered these speech tips: “Practicing can be as simple as naming opposites in conversation during bathtime. Think words like hot/cold, on/off, and wet/dry. Or you can work on using prepositions while playing with dolls: ‘The baby is in the crib, the bottle is on the table.’”
The more you can work on communication tasks during daily routines or playtime, the better! Play is such an important part of childhood development. Did you know that there is a correlation between play skills and language abilities? Practicing speech and language during playtime helps your child learn, while also strengthening your bond with them.
Speech therapist-recommended toys for teaching speech and language
Speech therapists are used to incorporating toys in their sessions with children. But if they’re also parents, they use toys both at work and at home!
We asked our speech therapist moms about their “go-to” toy or activity for teaching speech and language skills to little ones. Here’s what they said:
Mr. Potato Head: “I adore a good Potato Head toy! You can do so many things with it.” -Robin
Water play: “Incorporating water is such a motivating activity for a little one. You can model and teach so many different speech and language concepts while playing with water: opposites, imitation, turn taking, and even articulation drills (for example, if you’re working on the /p/ sound: ‘Pop, pop, pop the bubbles!’).” -Natalie
Bubbles and music: “Blowing bubbles and listening to music are simple and fun ways to engage your child, and there are so many opportunities for simple language! Music also promotes movement, and motor movements will build bridges to language centers in the brain.” -Meg
Simple toys: “The simpler the toy, the better. Books, paper, things to draw with, stuffies or dolls, vehicles. Remember: The more the toy does, the less your child has to do to interact with it. If the toy entertains your child, then play is simply a passive experience.” -Erica Wood, M.S. CCC-SLP
On parenting children with learning differences
Some Expressable speech therapists have children with specific diagnoses or learning differences that affect how they communicate. We asked them what they’d tell other parents in a similar situation.
Robin shared, “Breathe. Find the beauty in your child's unique strengths. Be sure to find something that they are successful at. For example, my son is severely dyslexic. He loves baseball and feels confident in that space. I would never dream of taking that from him. It is a priority for us because it is so very important for his mental health.
“When school and life in general are hard (you cannot escape not being able to read well!), your child needs a place where they feel good about themselves. Honor that and encourage it!”
Words of wisdom from parents of older kiddos
You’ve probably heard the saying about parenting young children: The days are long, but the years are short. We asked our speech therapists with older kids for some words of wisdom for parents of young children. Here’s what they said.
"Let your child try and figure things out on their own."
“Let your child try and figure things out on their own, as opposed to swooping in to ‘save’ them,” said Jamie Gentry, M.S., CCC-SLP. “They need to learn to be independent thinkers and problem solvers, whether they’re a toddler and a shape isn’t fitting in the toy right, or they’re a teenager and lost their test study guide. If I could go back, I would let my children ‘struggle’ a bit more. Instead of immediately showing or telling them the correct answer, I would help guide their thinking to ultimately come up with the solution on their own.”
"I would tell myself to stop obsessing about whether I’m doing the right thing or using the right products."
It can be easy to become focused on doing everything right for our kids. But try not to let it become an obsession. Here’s what Natalie said: “I would go back and tell myself to stop obsessing about whether I’m doing the right thing or using the right products. What's right is what works for you and your family. I would also tell myself to stop comparing my child to how other children are developing, as each child learns and grows at their own pace.”
"Accept that sometimes parenting is hard, and that is totally OK."
Meg shared her thoughts as well. “My son is only 7, but I wish someone had told me that whatever stage you're in, it's just that–a stage. Or a season, as I began calling them. Don't wait for an imaginary expiration date that other parents talk about (‘My child only did that til they were 6 and then stopped’). Your child might have a different timeline. But the season will end, just as winter will break to spring.
“I also wish people would have stopped telling me ‘It gets better’ and ‘Enjoy every moment.’ It is completely OK to not enjoy every moment. Don't judge yourself. Accept that sometimes parenting is hard, and that is totally OK.”
"We are a safe place to land. We are comfort.”
Robin added, “I would encourage new parents to be present. Kids need us to talk to them. They need our attention and our love. A mom should always be their safe place. We are educators of life. We are a safe place to land. We are comfort.”
Here at Expressable, we’re cheering you on as your child’s caregiver. Our speech therapists know first-hand how much work it can be! We hope that their insight gives you some inspiration, support, and a sense of community. When it comes to the families we serve, we’re in this together.