Most parents anxiously await the day when their child begins to talk.
Who isn’t excited by the first word? But what if your child has not started to talk yet, or if he/she is showing signs of a communication delay? There are still ways you can help your child to get ready for talking by working on their imitation skills. These skills will help build the foundation for your child to communicate. After all, their first words are essentially words they have previously heard and are imitating!
Motor Imitation: “Do this!” Without realizing it, most parents already teach motor imitation skills when they try to get their child to clap their hands or wave bye-bye to someone. Other ways to practice this skill are to see if your child can imitate raising both arms above their head or stomping their feet. Keep in mind that you would be saying “Do this!” while making the movement, rather than directly telling your child to “Stomp your feet!” The purpose is to see if they can imitate, not just to follow a verbal direction.
Eric Carle’s book “From Head to Toe” is a great way to make it more fun. Follow along as each animal makes a different movement in the story and see if you and your child can do it, too! If you don’t have the book, you can still practice anytime and anywhere! Rub your tummy, clasp your hands together, stretch your arms out wide, stick out your tongue…there are endless possibilities with imitating and they can happen anywhere from the breakfast table to the bathtub to bedtime.
Imitation with Gestures and Objects: “Do this!” Once your child is ready for the next challenge, practice imitating with gestures and objects. Even when you know what your child wants, try pointing to it and see if your child can do the same. Try having your child imitate tapping a stick on a drum, stacking blocks like yours, feeding a doll, or moving a toy car the same way you do. These moments can happen naturally while playing with your child and their toys! Just remember to throw in a “Do this!” to see if they imitate you.
Imitation with Sounds and Words: “Do this!” Channel your inner child and try to remember all the fun sounds you can make while playing with toys. Play with toy cars (or even the shopping cart at a store!) and make the following sounds: vroom!, honk!, beep beep!, crash!, uh oh!, boom! Play with dolls and make the following sounds: mmmm (when feeding the doll), gulp!, ahhhh (after drinking), ehh! (burping the baby), crying sounds, achoo! (for a sneeze), brrrr! (when baby is cold). You will be working on imitation skills, but these are also great play skills! Keep in mind that you do not have to keep coming up with new sounds; kids benefit from the repetition of the same sounds.
When your child has mastered the ability to imitate in a variety of ways, they are better prepared to communicate. According to the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, “improvements in imitation are associated with increases in verbal imitation and spontaneous language” (Ingersoll and Lalonde, 2010). Whether you are waiting for them to say their first word, or they have started talking to a limited extent, try to spend time focusing on their imitation skills and you just may start to notice an increase in their communication skills.
Alison obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in Speech Language Pathology from the State University of West Georgia and Master’s Degree in the area of Communication Sciences and Disorders from the University of Montevallo. She has worked in the public school setting for 16 years, including a specialized program for children with significant behaviors, as well as the medical setting. Alison joined the staff of Building Bridges Therapy in 2021. She has continued to improve her clinical skills by attending courses related to autism, social communication, language, fluency, articulation, and best practices in speech language pathology . Outside of work Alison enjoys spending time with her husband, watching her daughter ride horses, and caring for their two dogs, three cats, and eight chickens.