Parents as powerful therapy partners for young children with language delay

Updated: Mar 14

Birth to age 5 is a critical time for physical, cognitive, social and emotional health development3. Language develops rapidly in the toddler years and opens up the world to our young learners.

You know your child best and spend the most time together with them.

Coming to Speech Pathology with young children who have a language delay is usually about helping parents and care-givers to facilitate language stimulation at home. We do this because we know building the capabilities of adult caregivers can help strengthen the environment of relationships essential to children’s lifelong learning, health, and behaviour1.

Using facilitative play techniques2 Speech Pathologists work together with parents to set up play environments to motivate toddlers to communicate spontaneously with us.

We first do this by setting ourselves up for success – to get the interaction going. Toddlers will learn through everyday interactions, particularly with you. As communication partners to our toddlers, we can help them, particularly when toddlers have a language delay, by making sure we are implementing strategies in the toddler’s everyday environments.

Getting down on your toddler’s level is important. Playing the way they play, doing the things they do, and physically being down on the floor with them are all great ways to start an interaction.

Follow your child’s lead to let them start the conversation and respond with interest to sounds, gestures or words you hear. When you share moments with your toddler, it’s important to give your child time to talk.

Wait before you respond. Waiting can be the most difficult thing to try. When you wait, you give yourself time to tune-in to what your toddler is interested in and it also gives your toddler time to attempt to communicate.

When you are with your child, it’s all about tuning in and noticing what your child is interested in.

When your child does respond, show that you heard them by immediately responding back. Think of it like a serve in tennis. Hit that ball straight back! You can respond by smiling, making sounds, or simple comments such as “I see!”1.

You can interpret behaviours, sounds and gestures as meaningful and give them a name. For example, if your child looks and points at the clock on the wall, you could say ‘Look at the clock. The clock goes tick tock tick tock!’.

Providing early support for language learning and growth supports later learning.

Responsive, tuned-in caregiver relationships are essential. Healthy brain architecture depends on solid foundations; the ability of the child to process the senses and a stable, responsive relationship with caring adults1. Early language development is strongly predictive of later language skills. Getting help early is better than waiting.



1. Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, Serve and Return. Harvard University. [accessed 31/01/2022]

2. Fey, M (1986). Language Intervention with young children.

3. New South Wales Health, The First 2000 Days of Life. New South Wales Health. [accessed 31/01/2022]

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