How to Boost Your Child’s Language Skills – Tricks of the Trade


A speech pathologist working with a child.As a speech pathologist, I constantly reflect on how I can use every opportunity with my kids to boost their language skills. Parents always ask me how they can help facilitate good communication skills. As a mom, I get it. The paranoia is real! “Does my child say enough compared to kids his/her age?” “Do her r’s sound okay?” “Can people understand her?” “What else can I be doing to help them?”

The questions are endless and tiresome but have no fear; I am sharing the top six ways you can help boost your child’s language skills that can be done almost anytime and anywhere! 

1. Don’t Stop Talking! 

I always tell parents to talk to their children, regardless of their age constantly. Even babies or children who can’t respond can benefit from constant chatter. For really young ones, a prime opportunity is during diaper changing. Despite other distractions, this is a great time to have face-to-face baby time and keep talking!

“We’re changing your diaper. Where’s the clean diaper? Here it is! Now, where are those wipes? Oh, here they are; we found them! One leg first, then the other!” Even though you might feel silly because your children aren’t responding, they are listening and hearing appropriate intonation, along with good language and grammar skills.

The same can be done for older children. It could be during a car ride home from school or on the way to a friend’s house. “I wonder what you and ____ are going to do today?” “Remember last time when you guys ate pizza together?” “What was your favorite thing that happened at school today?” By doing this, you are creating endless opportunities to facilitate conversations and demonstrate good communication skills.

2. Motivating Materials 

The first thing I ask parents when they come to me for assistance is, “What kind of things does your child enjoy?” If something doesn’t motivate you, you probably aren’t inclined to do it. So whether it be Superman or Sofia the First, I always try to include something of interest in my sessions. These motivators can be used during activities or as rewards for accomplishing goals.

“But my child doesn’t have many interests yet.” Lucky for us, another great motivator is food! Many children love to eat, and mealtime is a great chance to incorporate language (even if it means some extra chocolate or sweets to get things going). For babies, this is a great time to try and introduce simple words. Bilabial sounds (/m/, /b/, and /p/) typically emerge first. Simple words like “more, me, ball, pop” are all great ones to start with. Say the word during feeding time and see if your child responds by saying or approximating the targeted word.

Sign language can also be used if children are not showing any signs of verbal output over an extended period. You can look up simple signs online and see which would work best for you and your child. Signing may potentially decrease frustration for both you and your child. I always reward the child immediately, even if they attempt to say or gesture the word. By doing so, you are reinforcing that communication gets your wants and needs met!

3. Rock Solid Routines

I have seen so many children thrive on routines. Is your bedtime routine a mess? Is getting up in the morning and getting everyone out the door impossible? All hope is not lost; now is the perfect time to implement a new routine. Create a visual schedule (brush teeth, breakfast, get dressed, put shoes on, in car, etc) for the whole family to see (some children benefit from an actual picture of the task rather than words). Routines are a great way to reinforce language, auditory processing, and sequencing skills while fostering independence simultaneously.

“What are you supposed to do first?” “Okay, great, and what comes next?” “What do we do last?” “What happens if we don’t complete all the steps?” Make sure to check for comprehension if a child is having a hard time following specific rules. “You brushed your teeth; now it’s time to eat breakfast. What do we do after we brush our teeth?” This will not only assist your kids in following agreed-upon rules but also alleviate the stress of repeating yourself a thousand times a day!

Don’t forget to add reading to your routine! Reading helps improve language skills by increasing vocabulary and overall ability to understand language.

4. Constant Questioning

Maybe you pick your child up from school or daycare and ask how their day was. You might get a quick one-word response like I do, “good.” But I always delve deeper, and although it may feel like I’m pulling teeth sometimes, I know I’m helping my child (and yes, even when she gets frustrated).

I will often continue to probe regardless of the attitude. Sometimes I focus on sequencing (“Well, what did you do when you first got to school? What did you do last?”), or labeling (“What did you have for snack today?” “Was it good?” “Did you enjoy it?”). By asking questions, you are working on receptive language (language we hear and understand) and expressive language (language to express our wants and needs).

The grocery store is also a great place to continue the questioning. With lots of colors and varieties of food, the possibilities are endless. “Where are the red apples?” “Can you see the yellow bananas?” “How many cucumbers do we have?” “Where do we go when we’re all done?” Maybe your child communicates fine but needs help with literacy. You can use this same trip to help them as well (“How many syllables are in pineapple?” “Goldfish, hmm, what letter does that start with?” “Can you find something that begins with the letter P?”).

Pragmatic skills (the social language skills we use in daily interactions with others) can also be strengthened. “What should I say to the clerk when we’re all done?” “What if I couldn’t find the peanut butter?” If your child still needs more practice in this area, role-playing at home is a great way to go over “What you could say next time” in various social situations!

5. The Magic of Mirrors

Mirrors are great for children to role-play and see how they form certain sounds. I always incorporate mirrors into my sessions with clients who have articulation delays. It keeps the child’s attention by focusing on themselves and helps them see where tongues, teeth, and lips should be placed to produce targeted sounds. Working on the /th/ sound? Good, make sure that tongue comes out between the teeth! Working on the /s/ sound? Okay, let’s pretend that your teeth are a castle and your tongue is the prince/princess. Make sure you don’t let him/her out of the castle when making that sound!

6. Reward Good Communication

Now I’m not saying you have to go to the toy section in Target every week (I’m there anyway, and hey, whatever works, right?), but kids will repeat good actions if rewarded appropriately. I use reward/behavior/prize charts in my sessions to motivate children to try their best. Visual charts allow students to feel pride in achieving goals or putting in their best effort.

When a client comes and tries their best (uses full sentences, points appropriately to pictures, labels objects, perfects that /f/ sound, etc.), they get to choose a sticker for their chart. As the chart fills up, they earn more stickers and even small prizes/tokens they can take home (helpful hint: these also work at the end of the week when everyone in the family followed that visual schedule you so cleverly created!). It reminds them that hard work pays off, and I love seeing their faces light up when they earn something they love.

Set goals that work for you and your child and reward their milestones, no matter how small! Maybe stickers once worked but are not sparking the same excitement they used to; 15 minutes of iPad time might be just the trick! Don’t be afraid to switch around routines and rewards until you find what works!

Whether your child is having difficulty or talking a mile a minute, all of these strategies can be used to foster and maintain good communication skills. Do your best, but always seek a certified speech pathologist if you have concerns regarding your child’s speech and language skills (or any other developmental delays). The earlier you start, the more time your child has to work on and enhance these skills.

What are some of the fun ways you boost language? I’d love to hear your ideas!