By Sonia Bestulic

That moment when your child says their first word… the excitement is hard to contain, as a burst of joy delights you, and super wide smiles are on for all.

Many times, within my decades as a Speech Pathologist, I have had the privilege to share that moment; often bringing a tear to the eyes of the parents, and to me too!

Children start their journey to using words from birth, as they very quickly begin to communicate non-verbally, through eye contact, facial expressions and gestures. Then they progress to making cooing sounds and starting to babble.

Often children say their first words at around 12-15 months of age; and by 18 months it is expected that a child is using words to communicate. From there, the number of words they use continues to grow and so does the length of their sentences!

So – what can you do to help nurture and boost your child’s first words – and beyond? Check out my top three tips below …

Sonia Bestulic is Founding Director of Talking Heads Speech Pathology, award-winning author, podcaster and mum of 3.

1) Language modelling and extension

Use language to talk about what you are doing and what your child is doing. No need for ‘baby talk’, you can use simple phrases and sentences, just make sure to keep them grammatically correct!

Be repetitive; it helps your child hear the word/s and phrases over and over again, especially for the child who has no words, modelling will help them understand how a word is associated to an action, object or person.

If your child has just started using single words, you can extend what they say by one or two more words. E.g. if they say “car” you might respond “Car!.. Big car!”

TIP: Aim to be face to face with your child when possible, so they receive all the communication from your face; not just your voice.

Often children say their first words at around 12-15 months of age.

2) Build anticipation and wait

This can be done within play routines and song singing. Basically, there needs to be a predictable sequence happening so your child can attempt to ‘fill in the blank.’ E.g. if the nursery rhyme Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is familiar to them, start to leave off the last word of a sentence and wait… they may just have a go at saying that final word. The same goes for activities such as bubble blowing; where each time you go to blow bubbles, you start with “ready, set… (pause and wait)” and see if they attempt “go!”

3) Interactive book sharing

Yes, you can start from birth! There are heaps of books suitable for your little one, particularly as they increase their “awake time” in their early months. For babies, include books in their daily “tummy time” routine.

Books help develop:

  • Concentration
  • Thinking & Imagination
  • Language (Vocabulary, Concepts, Grammar)

What to look for in books:

  • Durability (choose board boards, bath books, touch and feel books etc)
  • Colourful Pictures
  • Repetitive words and sentences
  • Rhyming words and sentences
  • Pictures/Story that encourages anticipation- engagement- description- discussion
  • Anything that your child has an interest in!

To make books interactive – HAVE FUN with them! Use expression, actions, excitement, ask questions, and make comments. Ultimately it is about creating a positive experience, and association with books.

Parents can start reading from birth – they’ve been listening to your voice forever!

BONUS TIP: Include children’s audiobooks in your daily routine. The benefits to language development are amazing – remember to make it interactive too. Car trips are the perfect time for audiobooks and stories, just 10 minutes a day will see a healthy boost of vocabulary!

For any concerns about your child’s communication, contact your local speech pathologist. Ensure you have your child’s hearing and ears checked too; this helps rule out any contributing factors.

Sonia Bestulic is based in Sydney and is Founding Director of Talking Heads Speech Pathology, Award-Winning Author and Podcaster of Chatabout Children with Sonia Bestulic.