5 Tips to Encourage Language from Speech Delayed Children

These five tips from Mighty Mommy can help get your child talking.

Cheryl Butler
6-minute read
Episode #354

As the mom of eight kids, I’ve experienced each of my children’s developmental milestones in completely different ways and with mixed expectations. For example, both my oldest and youngest (both girls) were early bloomers in everything from uttering their first words to toilet training. Sandwiched in between, I had a son who was rolling over at four months, crawling before six months, yet didn’t walk until he was at least fifteen months. 

The point I’m making is that it’s not uncommon for children who are developing normally to hit milestones on their own individual timetables. However, milestones are in place for a reason—they serve as guidelines for both parents, pediatricians, and educators to follow so that if some area of development does seem to be off schedule, they can help a child get back on track or seek further evaluation.

One area that three of my children did not meet the standard guidelines for was speech/language development. In fact, they were significantly delayed resulting in several intensive years of formal speech therapy treatment. Because my first child was an early talker, I was surprised when my son, a year younger than his sister, was using very little language at the same stages.  My mother’s intuition told me that something was “off,” despite the advice of many who told me not to worry because boys talk later than girls. While this is true to some extent, I also recognized that he wasn’t making the same effort that my daughter had to express his needs and interests verbally. So I followed my gut and had him tested at the age of two.

Early intervention is key when helping a child overcome a developmental delay such as a speech/language problem. By practicing the tips from a speech language pathologist in your child’s everyday play and routines, you can help elicit language consistently during these formidable years.

Here are five tips that Mighty Mommy learned from the experts on how to encourage language from a speech delayed child.

Language Skills Prior to Toddlerhood    

A great resource is the American Speech Hearing Association (ASHA). ASHA is a great resource to learn about developmental milestones as well as descriptions of most types of Communication Disorders.

Here are some language milestones for infants through toddlers. (18 months) shared on one of my favorite language development websites, playingwithwords365.com:

  • Infants should be babbling regularly between 6-9 months of age.
  • Infants should take part in back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions by 9 months.
  • Infants should take part in sharing/reciprocal interactions like pointing, sharing, reaching, or waving by 12 months.
  • Toddlers should be pointing at objects of interest by 14 months.
  • Toddlers typically say their first word somewhere between 9-15 months of age.
  • Toddlers between 12-18 months should understand the words for common objects and people in their lives—like baba for bottle, mama, dada, etc.
  • Toddlers between 12-18 months should be able to imitate simple gross motor movements like clapping hands or stomping feet. (Imitation is key to language development.)
  • By 18 months, the average child has 50 words in his vocabulary and will start to put two words together to form short sentences once he hits this 50 word vocabulary milestone.
  • By 18 Months the average child will be able to answer simple questions (Where is the doggie?), follow simple directions involving common items (get the ball), and point to pictures of common objects in books when asked (ball, book, dog, cat, etc).
  • By 18 months, the average child should be able to follow your pointing with his gaze (look at things you point to) and should be playing “pretend” with some objects (pretending to drink from a cup) and should play alongside (not “with”) other children, also known as parallel play [social/pragmatic/play development].

Tip #1: Engaging Your Infant

Those special moments spent cuddling and gazing at your newborn are not only tender moments but also wonderful opportunities to engage your baby in language activities. When your baby stares at you, imitate his facial expressions. If he sticks his adorable tongue out at you, do the same back to him. Do this several times and see if he doesn’t imitate you and do it back.  Repeat the cooing noises he makes as well as another way of back and forth interaction. Talk to your baby as you bathe him, change his diaper, pick him up out of his crib, swaddle him, and feed him. Any chance you can offer an explanation of what you’re doing while caring for him or what might be happening around him are wonderful opportunities to engage your baby in receptive (what a child understands) language.

Tip #2: Identify Everything

Young children learn language by listening to those around them. The opportunities to describe the world around your baby and toddler are endless. Get into the habit of offering an explanation for everything you do such as counting the kisses you give her, using names of siblings as they enter the room, point out colors in the room such as the pretty blue sky in the painting, the sofa is brown, the kitty is gray, mommy’s shirt is pink.  Build on the skill of imitating by teaching your baby to play peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake, waving bye bye, and shaking your head “yes” or “no.” Remember to communicate about all the things you see in her environment. When she points at things, talk about them. See Also:  Coping with a Special Needs Diagnosis


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.