For my main career I work with parents and infants and toddlers. I help parents learn how to engage with their children to help them meet their developmental milestones. The children I work with are experiencing some type of developmental delay. The tips I will describe below are effective with children that are experiencing delays as well as those that are typically developing.
Encourage Eye Contact
- Turn and look your child when talking to them, even if they avoid your eye contact, continue to look at his/her face.
- Hold interesting items near your face, your child may look at the toy, but there may be some eye contact and this can increase over time.
- If your child understands you can say “Look at me.”
- Some children naturally have more eye contact when engaging in physical activity such as tickling or wrestling around with them.
- Stand in front of your child when he/she is on the swing/rocking horse etc. Occasionally stop the swing and say “Ready, set” – wait a few moments so that they may look at you and then immediately say “Go.” As they turn to look at you more readily, you can encourage a vocalization for “Go.” If they do not look at you, you can say “Go” and keep trying. It might take time, but they should start looking at you.
- Blow bubbles. Blow some bubbles, wait for them to look at you and blow more. Catch a bubble on your bubble wand and hold it in the line of sight of your child and slowly bring the bubble near your face.
- Generally children will look at you more and feel more connected with you if you are gently touching them often throughout the day. This can be in the forms of hugs, tickles, cuddles, a gently touch on the back or rub on the leg.
- Massage, many young children will relax and calm down when you use massage. You will have to experiment and see what type of pressure your child likes best. Start gently, but if you have a child that is often “too rough” or one that likes to crash into people and things firmer pressure might be needed. Remember not to squeeze your child using your hands in a grip, open your hands flat and apply pressure on both sides of an arm or leg if you child likes this. Avoid bony areas like joins and the spine. If you rub across the belly, only use gentle touches. For more tips on toddler massage check out this post: https://www.ohbabymagazine.com/toddler/massage-for-your-growing-child-how-to-massage-your-toddler/
Don’t Talk Too Much
- Sometimes we can overwhelm our children by talking too much or constantly talking and not allowing them time to process. If you are modeling a word for your child to repeat please slowly count to 10 or 15 to allow them an opportunity to process the word and figure out how to say it.
- When engaging in an activity, it’s okay to keep it to 1-2 word phrases. If your child is not yet using words, try to use 1 word at a time during the activity. For example if your child is putting things into a container just say, “in, in, in”. If your child uses single words then say “put in, put in, put in,”
- It’s okay to talk about what they are doing, describing their actions, “You are putting the cars on the track.” Remember it’s okay to also let them play quietly at times too. It’s important to talk to your child, but you don’t have to flood them with words all day, it’s all about balance. The most important thing is to be responsive when they talk to or communicate with you.
- Avoid having too many things available. If you have a lot of toys, try putting some into boxes or bins and put them out of sight for a few weeks, then rotate them out and you will notice that your children will play with their toys better when there are not as many options.
- When completing a puzzle, only offer 2 pieces at a time for your child to place into the puzzle.
- Working on choice making is great for toddlers, it also helps them feel a bit of control over their environment. For example, you can ask your child if they want a red cup or a purple cup while showing them the options. Remember to only offer options if you are okay with both choices!
Read Books Together
- I recommend books with simple pictures and not too many words to start with. It’s okay if your child wants to flip through the pages quickly. Try to name 1 item per page before they turn it.
- Find books that are easy to memorize for you so that you can recite the book as your child explores the book.
- If your child lets you, try reading the book, use your finger to follow the words as you say them. Read the same book over and over, the repetition is good for your child.
- Get a bath time book. There are some books that are made for water, this is a great way to introduce books to your child if they don’t usually enjoy them.
- Being silly is a great way to engage with your child. Make silly faces or sounds for your child to imitate
- Do something unexpected, put a block on your head or try to put your child’s shoe on your foot.
- Sing a familiar song but get the words wrong, for example “Twinkle Twinkle little cow…”
Fill in the Blank
- Use a familiar phrase with your child, but stop before the last word. For example, “Ready, Set,…” wait for your child to say “go”, if your child is not yet using words if they make a noise or bounce with their body, then you can say “Go!”
- When working on animal sounds you can say “the cow says…” and wait for your child to fill in the blank. Often it’s easier for children to fill in the blank instead of answering questions.
- While singing familiar songs pause and let your child finish the line, for example “Twinkle, Twinkle little…”
These are just some tips on engaging with your child. I hope you find these useful. For more activity ideas check out this post