Here’s Why You Should Stop Interrupting Your Toddler
From the time of birth, children communicate with parents, with the world. From crying, babbling, repeating certain sounds, words and phrases to simple sentences and then more complex ones, children are continuously learning to speak. But if you, or siblings, interrupt or finish sentences for them, you’re not encouraging speech in toddlers; you’re just making it harder for them to learn.
Toddler speech development, from sounds to words to phrases and sentences, is sequential; the speed, dependent on individual children’s paces of learning. For example: from “mmmm” to “maa” to “mama,” “mummy,” “mummy milk,” “mummy, I want milk” to “mummy, can you please give me milk?” The words kids start with vary between languages (some start with nouns, others with verbs), but the progression from sounds to single words to statements is near universal.
It’s a journey that your child goes through, similar to standing, falling, standing again, wobbling, cruising, and then – finally — walking. Sure, you can pick up your child and carry him to where he needs to go, when you see him struggling to get there; it’s certainly easier and faster for you in the moment, but not in long game of learning to walk, because he’s skipping the practice he needs.
And in the case of speech, practice really does make perfect.
“When we begin to constantly interrupt our children as they are trying to figure out how to say what they want to say, essentially what we are doing is interrupting their flow of thought, and efforts to verbally put together their thoughts,” says Anuja Katrak is a Speech, Language and Dysphagia Therapist, and also founder of the Speech Pathology & Allied Rehabilitative Clinic (SPARC). “This comes in the way of them using their knowledge to formulate their own rules and recognize correct from incorrect. This can result in incomplete knowledge and therefore impaired language or grammar.”
Katrak points to studies that link some childhood speech impairments with a habit of interruption by adults and siblings.
She also warns that getting interrupted or ‘talked for’ can have an impact on kids’ self-esteem, potentially inhibiting speech further.
Instead of interrupting or letting children speak for siblings, parents intent on encouraging speech in toddlers should talk as much as possible with them, Katrak says, and use simpler language or sentence structures depending on how old they are. Give them your complete, patient attention when they’re trying to speak, follow their gestures and respond with gentle questions or body language or noises – effectively, encourage them in every way to communicate. Confirm when they’re right (yes, you want the box), and also affirm words with actions (shoes off, while saying it). When you ask them questions, pause to let them load up the words and sentences in their heads before you repeat the question or ask another one.
Above all, Katrak says, improving toddler speech is all about being patient.
“We often tell our kids to ‘wait’ when they interrupt us,” Katrak says. “Similarly, when they are speaking, even though it takes them longer, we must learn to wait.”