Before we get to the 6 tips, bear with me as I share a bit of our experience. I mentioned here that Henry is 16 months today. He says “mama” and “uh oh.” Yesterday he added “go.” Or maybe it was “no.” I’m not really sure.
He crawls like a mad man. He loves pushing the little cart with the handy weights Dad fashioned. He has the sweetest, toothiest grin and can spend whole minutes playing with his trains and cars. You can tell he adores his big sister.
And yesterday he had his second physical therapy session and his first developmental interventionist session. Those are not phrases I thought I would ever use.
Three months ago when my mother-in-law broached the topic of delays, I was quick to brush it off. “Oh, he’s just 13 months old, he’s fine.”
Then I started to wonder. Henry has always been easily frustrated with lots of crying and what I term “screeching.” I cannot seem to make him happy. I’ve wanted to pull my hair out. And sometimes I’ve had to put him in his crib and give myself a time out.
I usually chalked it up to lack of sleep (he’s never been a good napper) or even a milk allergy (I was weaning him and switching to whole milk). We went to see his pediatrician. When I described his delays in walking and communicating (not talking, pointing, or waving), he was concerned too.
Suddenly it became real. My son might have a problem other than being a cat napper.
The doctor said something that triggered an aha! moment for me – his screeching is probably frustration from being unable to communicate. His unhappiness wasn’t my fault for not having a better schedule or breastfeeding longer or somehow being a better mom. I felt such an intense relief. This simple realization allowed me to let go of the resentment that had been building and focus on helping Henry.
We immediately started working with an amazing program in Kentucky called First Steps. They are down-to-earth, kind and supportive. They come to our home. Or to the park or the zoo if I want. They are lovely, lovely people.
Now I am loaded up with tips, games and exercises to do with the little man. I feel so guilty making him do little baby squats. I know, mommy hates them too.
Obviously things aren’t “fixed” or perfect and yet I feel really good. We are doing something. And I don’t feel like I’m figuring it out all on my own. We’re seeing progress in just 2 short weeks – he now stands on his own and signs for “more”!
For anyone else encouraging their little ones to talk, here are 6 tips (my homework) from our therapist. I’m trying to stay zen and rediscover the joy of patty cake.
- Point and label everything. Use only one word like “spoon” or “ball.” Not a long phrase like “there’s a big, red ball.” Use the same technique when you read stories.
- Ask “where’s ___?” Then point and say “there it is.”
- Practice vocal turn taking. For example, when Henry says “uh oh” I reply with “uh oh.” I wait for him to make a sound again and then repeat his sound.
- Match gestures with words, like waving while saying “bye bye” or clapping hands while saying “patty cake.” The goal is for the child to be able to do the gesture by hearing the word.
- Teach simple signs. Start with “more” and “all done.” You can get a lot of mileage out of those two.
- Add environmental sounds or sound effects when you are talking or reading. Examples:
- Bubbles (pop!)