Five Common Mistakes When Teaching First Words
Updated: Jan 9
First words are one of the highlights of early childhood. There is nothing more precious than hearing (or seeing🤟) your child use their first word. As parents, we eagerly await a time when we will be able to more clearly communicate with our children. We want our kids to be able to tell us what they want and need and what they are thinking and feeling. We are so eager to see our children using more words that we will often work hard to help them get there.
But what if I told you that some of the very things we do to try to help our children may be working against us?
These are some of the most common mistakes I see when teaching first words... and what to do instead 💪.
1. Saying, "use your words".
Here's the thing- if your child had the words to say, they would probably be using them! Most of the time, we are saying this to kids who are still learning verbal communication. They are still relying on US to teach them the words.
➡What to do instead: Pause, wait, and give your child a look that says, "can you say it?". If they don't say anything, you model for them by saying the words you think they want to say. Example: Your child is pointing and grunting to their snack bowl on the counter. You walk over, pick up the bowl, and wait while giving them the look. If they don't say the word, you say "snack", "I'm hungry", or "I want apples" and give it to them.
2. Asking too many questions.
Let me ask you this... do you like being interrogated? Of course not! And nobody likes the feeling of being tested either. Rather than trying to engage our kids with questions like, "what's this?", "what's that?", or "what are you doing?", flip the script and try commenting.
➡Instead of holding up a cup and saying "what's this?", say "it's a cup!". Instead of saying "what's that?" when your child shows you a toy, say, "it's a truck!". Instead of asking, "What are you doing?" when you see your child stacking blocks, say, "stack the blocks", "up up up", or "wow! That's SO tall!". Using comments instead of questions keeps the pressure to talk low, creates engaging interactions, and allows you to model valuable language for your child.
3. Using baby talk.
Baby talk is different from PARENTESE. Baby talk uses immature grammar and babyish pronunciations of words like, "me want cookies" or "wittle baby".
➡Instead use parentense. Use short sentences with adult-like grammar and proper pronunciation of words. Use a higher pitch, slowed rate, and stretchy vowel sounds. Parentese helps children tune into language and make connections about what words mean!
4. Withholding items until they say the word.
Withholding items equates to putting a lot of pressure on a child to talk, to the point that you refuse to give them something until they say the word. Withholding is another strategy that is often used with new and emerging verbal communicators. These kids need support, not a power struggle!
➡Instead of withholding the item, pause, wait, and give your child a look that says, "can you say it?". This gives them a chance to say the word on their own. If they don't say anything, you model for them by saying the words you think they want to say.
5. Using flashcards to teach words.
Holding up picture cards and asking your child to name them is not the most effective way for them to learn words. It removes the words from their natural context and usually isn't very fun or engaging for your child.
➡Instead, use naturally occurring opportunities by modeling words for your child in play and during their daily routines, like meals, bath time, and your morning walk. Our kids learn best when we keep language learning motivating, meaningful, and fun!
Learn the exact steps to follow to teach first words in my new First 50 Words Course. This course was created to help you teach first words with confidence and ease. It is open to both parents and SLPs and gives you a step-by-step guide, parent workbook, over 50 pages of supporting handouts, real-life video examples, and more!
Enrollment is open now through January 25th. I look forward to connecting with you in the course!