How to guides

This page has advice on how to help your child with:

How to help your child’s talking

Stages of Language Development

Learning to talk is a process. Every child progresses through the process at different rates. To know what to expect at different stages see ICAN’s ages and stages.

Foundational Skills: Early interaction, attention, listening, and play

Before a child begins to talk they need to develop certain foundational skills. These include early interaction, attention, listening, and play.

Tips to develop early interaction:

  • Interactive play provides opportunities for you and your child to communicate. Interactive type play includes; bubbles, nursery rhymes and people games (for example, peek a boo).
  • Copying your child’s sounds and play will encourage more interaction.
  • Use gestures, for example, waving and pointing. 
  • Allow time for your child to start and respond to interactions. They may do this by using words or gestures, for example, smile, look or point.  

Tips to develop attention and listening:

Tips to develop play:

  • Get down to your child’s level. 
  • Join in the activity with your child.
  • Follow your child’s lead. This means you should play with and talk about what your child is playing with.
  • Talk about what you and your child are doing. 
  • Avoid asking too many questions. 

Understanding Language

Understanding of language is also known as receptive language.

This refers to:

  • understanding the meaning of words and sentences.
  • the ability to understand and follow instructions

A child needs to be able to understand the words and sentences before they can say them for themselves. A child will usually understand more than they can say.

If a child does not understand the language, they may:

  • have difficulty following instructions
  • be delayed with their talking  
  • become frustrated
  • switch off or misbehave
  • find it harder to play with friends

How to help your child’s understanding 

  • Reduce background noise.
  • Try to be face to face when you are interacting.
  • Speak slowly and clearly.
  • Give your child time to process and respond to what you have said.
  • Try to reduce the number of questions you ask them.
  • Repeat the instruction if needed. 
  • Break instructions down into smaller parts.
  • Use opportunities to show them, as well as telling them, for example, pointing or showing them objects or pictures.


Talking is also known as expressive language. Talking begins to develop from birth and carries on through childhood.  Usually, talking starts with babble, then single words, followed by sentences. There can be a space of 6 months between what a child can understand and what they then are able to say.  

Tips to increase single words

  • Use simple, everyday words when talking with your child. 
  • Name objects that your child is playing with, using or looking at.
  • Repeat words in different situations so that your child can hear the same words over and over again. 
  • Add simple language to daily routines such as at bath time (for example, wash, hands, bubbles) or dinner time (for example, more, eat, potatoes).
  • Turn their attempts to communicate into meaningful words. For example, if your child points to a ball and says ‘ba’ you could say ‘ball’.
  • Use commenting instead of questions. Instead of saying “Say lion”, “What’s this?” or “What colour is this?”, just say “Oh a lion”.

Create opportunities for your child to use words. You can do this by:

  • offering choices of objects or activities - for example, asking "do you want the ball or the blocks?" 
  • giving them a little bit of something and then waiting for them to ask for more - for example, give them a little bit of juice instead of a full glass
  • pausing during familiar routines to give them the opportunity to continue - for example, pause during familiar songs

Tips to develop short sentences 

  • When a child has around 50 words they are ready to start joining words together to make short sentences.
  • Use simple 2-word phrases such as; “More juice, Bye Daddy”.
  • Add a word to what your child says, for example, child says “car”  you say “yes, big car”.
  • Name a variety of words including describing words (for example, big or hot) and actions words (for example, eating or playing).
  • Use these describing and action words in short sentences, for example; hot soup, teddy’s eating cake.

Tips to develop longer sentences 

  • Repeat what the child says and add 1 or 2 words. For example, if your child says “I’m tickling his tummy”, you say “Yes, you’re tickling his soft brown tummy”.
  • If your child makes a mistake, say the corrected sentence back to them. It is important not to make your child repeat the corrected sentence just let them hear you say it. For example, if your child says “I winned the race today”, you say “Oh wow, you won the race today” (with emphasis on ‘won’). 

Further Advice

Videos on developing first words by Hanen on Youtube

Advice on early language activities by Oxford NHS

How to help your child’s understanding of concepts

Concepts are words that a child needs to understand so that they can follow directions at home and at school for example; small, hot, in, under, bottom, first, after. These words can be more difficult to learn compared to object words.

You can help your child by:

  • focusing on one concept at a time
  • starting to teach by using real objects. Start with a box of objects and have the child follow directions with basic concepts (for example, “Put the teddy in the box.”). As your child progresses, let them to tell you things to do using concepts. Your child must understand the concepts before they can use them.
  • reading to your child. A lot of children’s books and stories use concepts. Name and point out the target concept, for example, “The cat is on the bed”. You might then go around the house and talk about things that are on other furniture.
  • playing the game “I Spy”. Use your concept in your clues; you could say, “I spy something that is empty.” For more practice, encourage your child to use the concept when it is their turn. This game is great to use one-on-one, as a group, or on long car trips. 
  • showing your child what to do when giving them an instruction so that they can ‘see’ what the concept looks like
  • describing to your child what they are doing. For example, “You put your toys in the box” or “You put the tractor under the table’’
  • repeating the concept in a variety of situations and activities 

How to help your child learn new words

We recommend the following advice to help preschool children learn new words.

  • Feely Bags: Gather objects into a bag. Take turns choosing an object out of the bag. Name the object, talk about what it looks like, where we find it and what it does or what we do with it. 
  • Sorting: When tidying up, sort toys into groups with your child. Examples include the cow goes with the farm animals and the car goes with the transport. Name the toys and name the group they belong in. 
  • Simon Says: Use the game “Simon says” to help your child understand body parts (for example, point to your chin) and actions (for example, push the chair). Take turns giving instructions. 
  • Use books and jigsaws to talk about new words. Describe the words, for example, what it looks like, where it is found. Talk about parts of an object, for example, the trunk of an elephant or the wheel of a car. 
  • Sing nursery rhymes and songs with your child. This provides new vocabulary and the repetition will help your child remember the words. 

Further Advice

Video about developing your child’s vocabulary by Oxford Owl

Video about learning categories by Peachie Speechie

How to help your child develop sentences and stories


Use sentences that you wish your child to say. Emphasise target words and repeat the use of sentences throughout the day.

For example, if working on “and”, you could say “I went to the shop and I bought two apples”. 


Repeat your child’s sentences with correct grammar.

For example, Child: “Tom goed to the shop”, Adult: “Yes, Tom went to the shop”. 


Repeat your child’s sentence and add more words to lengthen their sentence. 

For example, Child: “I want to go outside”, Adult “You want to go outside to play football?”. 


Below are activity suggestions to aid your child’s development of forming sentences and stories. 


Take photos of your child completing a task. For example when making breakfast:

  • Photo 1 of milk, cereal, bowl and spoon.
  • Photo 2 of pouring cereal into bowl.
  • Photo 3 of pouring milk into bowl.
  • Photo 4 of eating cereal.

Ask your child to look at the photos and tell the story.
Help your child by telling the story to them.
Use sequencing words (first, next, last) and connecting words (and, then). For example: First, I got the cereal and bowl. Next, I poured the cereal into the bowl then I ate it all up. 


Get pictures of people doing things - these may be found from papers, in books or online. Example pictures may include somebody dancing, eating or driving. 
Take turns at looking at a picture without the other person seeing it. Act out the picture. The other person must guess what they are doing and say it using a sentence. For example, “you are driving a car”.


When reading books together talk about what is happening in the pictures or after reading, talk about what has just happened. 

Use sentences that are slightly more complex than your child’s. For example:

  • Child: “She’s running away”, Parent: “Yes, she’s running away from the wolf”. 
  • Child: “She’s running away from the wolf”, Parent “Yes, she’s running away from the wolf because she’s scared of him”. 

Repeat words or sentences that you wish for your child to use. For example:

  • The boy is wearing blue trousers.
  • The boy is wearing a green t-shirt. 
  • The girl is wearing a green t-shirt too.

For more difficult language tasks, ask the child what they think might happen in the story. Use predicting words (I think or I feel) and connecting words (because, but, and, then, so). For example, “I think she might get lost in the forest because she is only small and has no adult with her.” 

Further Advice

For further advice on developing talking you can look at the following websites:

First 5’s poster on developing story telling through reading

Written information on developing sentences by Oxford NHS

How to help your child’s speech sounds/pronunciation

We recommend the following advice to help children develop their speech sounds. 

Provide good communication conditions by:

  • reducing background noise
  • stopping what you are doing and turning to face the child
  • speaking slowly and clearly to your child

How to react to the speech errors

If you do not understand what your child has said; tell them that you did not hear correctly and can they show you.

If you do understand what your child has said; repeat the word back to your child clearly, for example, Child says “tat” Adult replies “yes a Cat”. 

Do not ask them to repeat the word after you.

Help your child at home by:

  • speaking clearly and slowly to your child
  • repeating the corrected word back to your child
  • reading books
  • listening to nursery rhymes


Children develop different speech sounds at different ages. A guide of the age most children achieve their speech sounds can be found on LanguageLink.

The S sound

Many children may use a different sound for S up until 4 years of age, for example, saying tun for sun. Children may use their s sound but it may sound a bit different, this is called a lisp. There are different types of lisps. An interdental lisp is whereby your child’s tongue comes out between their teeth. This is produced by many children up until they have their adult teeth. A lateral lisp is when your child makes the S sound but it sounds slushy. If your child’s S sounds slushy, we recommend contacting us to discuss if your child needs support to say their s sound.

Watch a video on examples of these type of lisps

Further advice

Activities and information leaflets by Leeds NHS

Worksheets with specific sounds by Mommy Speech Therapy

Videos on how to say and teach specific sounds by Peachie Speechie

How to help your child who stammers

Stammering can be a typical part of language development between 2 and 6 years old. During this time a child might repeat whole words when excited, telling a story or tired. For example, “Mum mum mum can I go outside?”. This repetition may come and go.

Your child may require speech therapy if they:

  • stammers past 6 months
  • are aware of the stammer
  • are upset or frustrated
  • avoid speaking situations 
  • have other speech and language difficulties 
  • have more regular repetitions throughout the day
  • develop other types of repetitions. For example, part word (b-b-baby), prolongations (ssssnake) or blocks (when words do not come out)
  • have body or facial movements showing a struggle to get the word out

We recommend the following advice to help children who are stammering. 

Give your child time to talk by: 

  • stopping what you are doing and turning to face the child
  • waiting for the child to finish speaking 
  • taking turns when speaking 

How to react to their stammer

Listen to what your child says not how they say it. 

Do not ask your child to slow down or start again. Instead, use a slow rate and pauses when talking with the child. If you talk slowly so will the other person. 

Avoid drawing attention to the stammer as many young children do not realise they stammer.

Be encouraging if your child gets upset about their speech, as you would if they were upset about any other difficulty. 

Asking your child questions

Reduce the number of questions you ask your child. This will decrease the pressure on your child.

Replace asking a question with commenting on what your child has said. If you do ask a question, give them time to answer. 

Help your child at home by:

  • making sure the child gets enough sleep
  • having a “Special time” with the child by playing with them alone for five minutes
  • keeping a diary of times when the stammer increases or decreases. This information will help you understand any patterns if the stammering increases again

Further advice 

Information and events by the Irish Association of Stammering Ireland

Information and videos about stammering by British Association of Stammering UK

How to help your child when they are learning more than one language

Keep using your home language(s) this will help them to learn English better. Your child will learn English in preschool and school.

Children can go through phases of preferring one language over another. Keep speaking your language because this will help develop your child’s understanding.

Multilingual people mix and switch their languages. Children naturally learn the rules of when it’s okay to switch and when it’s not. Mixing is normal and not a sign of a language problem or confusion.

Keep your sentences short but grammatically correct.

Encourage attempts from your child to communicate in any way. This may include using words in any language or using actions. 

Share a simple list of 10-20 used words in your home language with preschool and school.

Give your child time to think and respond. Children learning more than one language need extra time, so to find the right word in the right language.

Reduce language: If the sentence is too long the child won’t understand. If a child has little or no English use 1-3 word sentences

Understanding the words must come before the use of the word. Support understanding of the language and talking will follow.

Learning more than one language is an advantage for a child. It does not cause language difficulties. If your child has a delay in learning both/all their languages, it may be because of and underlying language difficulty. If you have concerns, please contact your local SLT department.

Further Advice

TalkNua provides information on supporting multilingual children’s speech and language development.