As a Speech-Language Pathologist, I have often been asked by moms (and dads too) what is the most important thing they can do at home to help enhance their child’s language development. I have given this question a lot of thought, my answers I’m sure varying from time to time. To be honest, I am positive my answer has completely changed since becoming a mom. Now that I’ve gotten to experience raising small children first hand and have combined that with my knowledge in speech and language development, I can tell you what I believe the answer to be.
The most powerful communication tool I believe parents can have for small children is having a FLEXIBLE ROUTINE in place. It’s that simple. You do NOT need the most expensive toys, the most elaborate crafts, or even the most exciting weekend adventures planned. Nope. What you do need is a Flexible Routine in place to help guide your days of early childhood. Why is this so important you may ask? A daily routine not only lets our children know what to expect which provides a strong sense of security, but it also provides numerous communication opportunities for them. It has been proven over and over again that new language growth occurs best in children during meaningful experiences with many opportunities for repetition. So, what better opportunity than at the breakfast table, during snack time, bath time, shopping time, bedtime, storytime, etc., to really slow down and focus on communication with your child? Those daily routines ARE the meaningful experiences that children can count on each day.
So how do I get started creating a flexible routine and making the most of the communication it offers?? Here are a couple tips:
1. Remember it is called a Flexible Routine, not Flexible Schedule. I really don’t like using the word “schedule” when working with small children. We all know the days are not predictable, things are changing constantly, and just when you may have the perfect “schedule” figured out, the child grows a little and needs a new one! A routine is simply an order of doing things to make sure you get the necessary tasks done each day. For example, bathtime comes before bedtime or snacktime comes after naptime. Yes, there will be certain times of the day you need to get specific things done but that is not the primary focus. The focus is setting a relaxed orderly tone for the day with your child so you can enjoy those important bonding and teachable moments with them.
2. Make a list of all the necessary things that need to be done each day. For example, meals, baths, storytime, playtime, nap, errands, etc. Put them in order in which you may already be doing them. You most likely are already doing these things in a repetitive manner but it’s good to get it all on paper, especially for those busy or foggy days. If you are not already doing them in a certain order, try to think of the order you would like to set for your days. Is there a time of day your child responds best to stories or play? Is there a time of day when you need to get things done or have the most energy TO get things done? Set specific times for only the things that MUST be done at specific times. For all the rest, just focus on the order of events without so much emphasis on a clock.
If you are a working mom or your children are older and in school, most likely your childcare or school is already setting a great routine, but think about the activities you can do when you are home together such as meal times, bathtime or bedtime? How can you build on those times your child looks forward to?
3. Start small and BE PRESENT. Start by picking just one or two of your daily activities (for example, bathtime and storytime) and really focus on those to begin with. Think ahead about ways to really monopolize on natural, meaningful language. For example, running errands with your child is an excellent time to point out some new vocabulary words as you see things in stores or offices that are not in your home and are new to your child. Running errands is also the perfect time to work on listening and following directions as your child needs to stay close by and follow safety rules. Be present during the daily activities you’ve chosen to focus on. Put your phones and electronics away and really look your child in the eyes and communicate with them. Hear what they have to say, talk about something new, or just be plain silly together.
Simply put, these everyday, repetitive activities that we all do each and everyday can be the most powerful communication tools for your child if you let them. By having a Flexible Routine in place, you give yourself plenty of opportunities to talk and listen to your child in the most natural manner, promoting language growth and bonding too! Embrace these routines and make the most of them!!
**Disclaimer: All communication tips offered in the blog are not meant to substitute for professional speech and language services if your child qualifies for them. They are meant for educational purposes only, to provide simple examples of ways to promote speech and language development in children.