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6 of my Favourite Early Language Strategies to Coach to Caregivers

Coaching parents and caregivers to use early language strategies that support their child’s language and communication skills is a highly effective therapy approach.  In this post you’ll learn all about 6 of my favourite early language strategies to coach to caregivers in my Early Intervention sessions.

Picture of a young girl of Indian heritage playing with her mother on the sofa.

General Language Stimulation

The 6 early language strategies you’ll learn about in this post are based on the General Language Stimulation approach.

General language stimulation involves making changes to the physical and linguistic environments, in order to increase the opportunities for the child to hear developmentally appropriate language. There are no specific language targets addressed, instead the overarching goal is to increase language skills, (Finestack and Fay 2013, in Rescorla and Dale, 2013).

Through parent-coaching sessions, parents/caregivers are taught to limit their use of directing/controlling behaviours during interactions (things such as giving commands, asking children to repeat words, and asking questions), and increase their levels of responsiveness to the child and their communicative acts, (i.e., follow their lead, copy their sounds, etc.).
Finestack and Fay (2013, in Rescorla and Dale, 2013) explain that this intervention “focuses on creating a rich language environment that is tailored to the child’s interests and abilities” (pg.286).

If you want to learn more about this approach, and want to feel confident coaching parents and caregivers to use General Language Stimulation techniques in your Early Intervention sessions, check out the Early Intervention Handbook in my TpT store.

6 Early Language Strategies to coach to caregivers

  1. Commenting
    Commenting provides children with the opportunity to hear language related to the objects they have or the actions they are doing.
    When coaching parents/caregivers to use the commenting strategy, you want to encourage them to talk about what they and/or their child are doing, looking at, playing with, touching, eating etc.
    It is important to use short, grammatical phrases and repeat the key words. There is no expectation that the child will respond to, or copy what is said; instead the focus is for the child to hear lots of language to accompany their routines/actions etc.

    There are a few different types of commenting:
    Responsive labelling: labelling the object the child is playing with/looking at, etc., e.g., “That’s a ball”.
    Self talk: describing your own actions with the toy or in the routine, e.g., “I’m rolling the ball”.
    Parallel talk: adult describing the child’s action with the toy or in the routine, e.g., “You’re kicking the ball”.
    Toy talk: this shifts the focus to the toy or object itself, including describing what it looks like, its location, properties, and actions. You also give the object its name, e.g., “The ball rolled away”, (College of Applied Health Sciences, Illinois University, n.d.)..

  2. Being Face-to-Face
    Playing at the child’s level and being face-to-face helps a child to develop early social skills, such as shared attention, early turn-taking, and conversational skills. It also encourages the child to look at the adult’s face and mouth while they talk and play together, which encourages oral motor and sound imitation.
  3. Follow their Lead
    Following a child’s lead involves watching what the child is doing in play, then copying and commenting on their actions/sounds/words. It is important to coach parents/caregivers to follow their child’s lead in the activity/play, while refraining from directing the play. This strategy helps because the child is hearing language that is related to something they are doing and interested in, so the words hold more meaning for them.
  4. Offer Choices

    Offering choices encourages a child to interact and use words, rather than responding yes/no or not responding at all.  When coaching parents/caregivers to use choices, you want them to make the choices visual where possible. Showing the child the two options and holding them up as they name each one helps the child to see and understand the choices more easily.   The child can then respond using looking, pointing, words, sounds or gestures. Coach parents/caregivers to accept the response and to name the item the child chose before giving it them.

  5. Pause and Wait
    Coach parents/caregivers to pause in anticipation after doing an action, offering a choice or making a comment, etc., to give their child time to listen, understand what was asked, and to respond.  Coach the parent/caregiver to wait expectantly for a reply. Waiting expectantly can be different for each person, but generally involves the following:
    • Look at the child, lean in towards them.
    • Raise your eyebrows, smile and/or have your lips in a vowel position, i.e., rounding them for “oo”.

    If the child doesn’t respond, the adult can say the words they wanted the child to say, and continue with the activity.

  6. Use Communication Temptations
    This is a strategy where you structure or manipulate the environment in such a way that the child has to use spontaneous communication with another person, in order to get a desired item/result
    For example, putting toys inside a clear, hard-to-open box, putting toys in view but out of reach, giving a yoghurt but “forgetting” to give a spoon, etc.
    You may also hear it called ‘sabotage’ or ‘staging’, but I prefer the term ‘Communication Temptations’ as you’re creating a situation that tempts the child to communicate!  You can learn more about how and why to use Communication Temptations in your early intervention sessions here.

Sharing strategies in a caregiver-friendly format

Parents and caregivers have a lot on their mind, all of the time (believe me, I know!). So I’m always really conscious of finding ways to share these strategies and ideas with parents and caregivers, without overwhelming them. 

This is why I created this simple ‘Encouraging Language’ poster. It can be used as a poster or a handout (perfect for sticking on the fridge at home as a reminder!).

The poster shows 9 simple ways we can support children’s language skills. There’s a picture to accompany each tip too.  These are great for sharing with parents and caregivers in your Early Intervention sessions, without feeling like you’re overwhelming them!  You can purchase your copy of this beautiful and functional early language poster from my TpT store here.

If you want other parent-friendly materials, check out the Parent Coaching section in my TpT store.

I hope you’ve found this post helpful.  Do you have other go-to strategies that I’ve not included here? Share them in the comments below!

Finestack, L.H. and Fey, M.E. (2013). ‘Evidence-Based Language Intervention Approaches for Young Talkers’. In Rescorla, L.A. and Dale, P.S. (eds.). (2013). Late Talkers: Language Development, Interventions, and Outcomes. Paul H Brookes Publishing Co., Baltimore, MD.