Guest Post by Tracey Blake: Small Talk

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Want to encourage your baby or toddler along the way to becoming a confident, chatty child? Speech therapist Nicola Lathey and journalist Tracey Blake have written a book called Small Talk: Simple ways to boost your child’s speech and language development from birth to four. It’s full of fun games and here Tracey shares her tips, tricks and advice exclusively on our JoJo Maman Bébé blog…

small talk group

Say What You See

If you want to do one thing to boost your child’s speech it’s the Say What You See Technique.

It’s all about learning through play and you give a gentle running commentary of what your child is doing, and what is happening, at that moment in time. It involves following your child’s lead, observing him closely to see what he is interested in, and commenting and then pausing to give space for the child to respond.

This powerful technique helps your child become involved in what he’s doing and link what he hears to what he is doing or thinking. Next time he repeats the action or play sequence he will hear your voice in his head, almost like a scratched record and, eventually, want to say it for himself.

My three-year-old Minnie is still a huge fan of saying what she sees. But it does get me into trouble on occasion. A while ago a gentleman walked past us in muddy trousers. Minnie said very loudly. ‘That was a dirty old man wasn’t it Mummy?’ The poor (40-something) chap replied furiously ‘I most certainly am not!’ and stalked off.

Getting the most out of story time

A bedtime story should be read from a very early age – from birth, in fact, or at least as soon as the bedtime routine is established. For very young babies, it’s best to simply point out one or two single words that relate to the pictures on the page. As you ‘tune in’ to the level of your child’s language and thought, you will be able to modify your storytelling accordingly – first reading out a word from each page, then a line from each page, then the whole story.

Have a word theme for the day to build first works

Collect objects that relate to a specific word and play with them for the day.

‘Bear’ is a great example of a theme. You could:

• read a book about a bear (Bear Hunt or Brown Bear, Brown Bear)

• have a teddy bears’ picnic and encourage your child to give some food and drink to the bears.

• sing ‘If You Go Down to the Woods Today’ or ‘Teddy bear, Teddy bear, turn around’

• bring a bear to lunch with you or take him for a walk with you – put him on the swings, too.

• look up bears on Google Images and say ‘bear’ every time you see one.

• wear your bear pyjamas.

You can use this format for any object you think your baby is interested in. If your little one hears the words over and over again, it shouldn’t take long before your child is attempting to join in and say ‘bear’ too. With older children simply use more complex words, or theme it around an action – like running.

Positive parenting

Minnie’s first word was, ‘No’ – a real speech no-no as it turns out. I was rather horrified when Nicola told me that is was probably because she heard me saying it all the time to her. This was a great lesson for me and now, with both children, I try to keep in mind Nicola’s Positive Parenting theory (where you tell them what you DO want them to do, rather than what you DON’T. So, instead of shouting, ‘No Monty’ when he pulls Minnie’s hair for the fiftieth time that day, I say, ‘Gentle Monty’.

Container play

Toddlers love ‘container play’ and all you need is a couple of old ice cream tubs, large Tupperware boxes, or biscuit tins (lunch boxes work well too) and some objects to play with. Try a small range of objects that fit within a certain category or set, for example, vehicles, clothes, snacks, toys or animals.

Interestingly, when words are learnt within their particular set, they are stored better in the language centre in the brain (a bit like a filing cabinet in your brain).

Name each item as you pull it out of the bag and then throw it theatrically into a large container (kids will love the noise of it bashing and crashing in) – continue until the bag is empty then start all over again.  Put the lid on, give it a shake and try to remember what is in the box.

Tracey Blake

Give reasons to communicate

Mothers often try to pre-empt their baby’s every need, but by doing this your child no longer has a reason to communicate with you. Here’s a list of reasons why a baby might try to communicate, and once you understand these you can begin to encourage them to express their needs – through gesture, babbling, words or eventually sentences!

  • Responding to someone (saying hi or bye)
  • Asking for more (another biscuit!)
  • Protesting/refusing (‘no!’/‘Go away’)
  • Getting attention (‘Muuuummy!)
  • Making comments (‘look!’/‘Big bus’)
  • Giving information (‘me fall down’)
  • Seeking information (‘what’s that?’/‘where’s Daddy gone?’)
  • Thinking and planning (‘after tea’/‘bath time’)
  • Sharing ideas (‘let’s go park!’/‘I like sweeties’)

So, next time your toddler points furiously at the biscuits, pretend you don’t understand and offer him a piece of fruit instead. Chances are that he will make his desire for a biscuit very clear!


Small Talk: Simple ways to boost your child’s speech and language development from birth by Nicola Lathey and Tracey Blake is available now at Waterstones or from Amazon.
Small talk book

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