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Speech, language and communication needs (SLCN)

If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, there is lots of support available and things that you and others can do to help.

Speech and language development

Every child’s rate of speech and language development is different. However, knowing what you should expect, and when can be helpful. Read a guide on stages of speech and language development on I CAN children’s communication website: Ages and Stages ( You could also print the Ages and stages guide.

Take a look at the links below for the different ages and stages.

Children develop skills at different rates but by 6 months, usually children will:

  • Turn towards a sound when they hear it
  • Be startled by loud noises
  • Watch your face when you talk to them
  • Recognise your voice
  • Smile and laugh when other people smile and laugh
  • Make sounds to themselves, like cooing, gurgling and babbling
  • Make noises, like coos or squeals, to get your attention
  • Have different cries for different needs. For example, one cry for hunger, another when they are tired.

How to support your child

There are lots of things you can do to encourage your child at this stage:

  • Copy sounds your baby makes. This will encourage more noises and is the start of turn-taking and conversations.
  • Hold your baby near your face when you talk to them so that they can see you clearly.
  • Talk to your baby about what you are doing. This will help them to start to learn words.
  • Talk in a sing-song voice to your baby. This will keep them interested in what you are saying.
  • Have some special time with your child each day to play with toys and picture books.

Things to look out for

Speech and language skills develop from a very early age. However, some children do not develop the early skills they need.

These can be very difficult to spot from an early age. Here are four examples that would cause concern at 6 months:

  • If a baby is not startled by loud noises
  • If a baby does not engage in eye contact when spoken to
  • If a baby does not smile back at someone smiling at them
  • If a baby does not watch a speaker’s face with interest.

Now I’m 6 months I can…

Watch the video on helping your child to talk by copying them on the NHS website. Learning to talk | 0 to 6 months | Start for life (

Children develop skills at different rates but by their first year, usually children will:

  • Listen carefully, and turn to someone talking on the other side of the room
  • Look at you when you speak and when their name is called
  • Babble strings of sounds, like ‘no-no’ and ‘go-go’
  • Make noises, point and look at you to get your attention
  • Smile at people who are smiling at them
  • Start to understand words like ‘bye-bye’ and ‘up’ especially when a gesture is used at the same time
  • Recognise the names of familiar objects, things like ‘car’ and ‘daddy’
  • Enjoy action songs and rhymes and get excited when sung to
  • Take turns in conversations, babbling back to an adult.

    How to support your child

There are lots of things you can do to encourage your child at this stage:

  • Make different sounds to interest your child. This can be varying the sound of your voice or things like a rattle or squeaky toy.
  • Pointing to sounds will help develop your child’s listening skills. This will also help develop their awareness of the world around them.
  • Encourage your child to look at you during activities. This could be dressing, feeding or nappy changing. This will help your child’s attention and speech and language skills.
  • Talk about everyday activities, like getting dressed, eating and bathing.
  • Copy your baby when they are babbling. This is a very good way to show how to take turns in communication. This will encourage them to make even more sounds.
  • Use actions with words. Try waving as you say ‘bye-bye’ or picking up their cup as you say ‘drink’. This will help your child to relate what they see and do with the words they need .
  • Sing action songs and play games like ‘peek-a-boo’ to encourage speech and language and attention skills.
  • Have some special time with your child each day to play with toys and picture books.

Things to Look Out For

Speech and language skills develop from a very early age. However, some children do not develop the early skills they need.

This can be very difficult to spot from an early age. However, you should talk to a GP or health visitor if your child does not:

  • Respond to noises by 9 months
  • Point to things they are interested in by one year

Try to gain your attention by making noises by one year. This could be through eye contact, facial expressions or reaching.

Now i’m 12 months old I can…

Watch the video on helping your child get better at listening and remembering through stories and pictures. Learning to talk | 6 to 12 months | Start for life (

Children develop skills at different rates but by 18 months, usually children will:

  • Enjoy listening to music and singing, and sometimes move their body to ‘dance’ along to music.
  • Enjoy looking at simple picture books together with an adult.
  • Understand many more words than they can say, including the names of everyday objects like furniture, clothing and body parts.
  • Understand some simple questions and instructions like ‘where’s teddy?’ and ‘kiss Mummy’.
  • Say up to 20 single words (such as ‘cup’, ‘daddy’, ‘dog’) to ask for things or to comment on what they see, even though they may not be very clear yet.
  • Use a lot of babble and single words while they are playing, often sounding like they are speaking in sentences even though they aren’t always saying real words.
  • Copy a lot of things that they see adults doing, like saying ‘Hello’ or waving goodbye.
  • Enjoy simple pretend play, such as giving dolly a drink or pretending to talk on the phone.

How to support your child

There are lots of things you can do to encourage your child at this stage:

  • Look at your child when you are talking to them. This is easier to do if you are at the same level, so get down to their eye level or bring them up to yours.
  • Talk to your child in short, simple sentences. This helps them to understand what you’re saying, and also gives them a better chance of copying a word or two when they’re ready.
  • Talk about the things your child is looking at or doing. Follow their lead when playing with them and talk about what interests them.
  • Repeat words often – children need to hear words many times before they remember them and say them.
  • Talk to your child often during daily routines like mealtimes and bath time.
  • Repeat back what you think your child means when they don’t have the words. For example, if your child points at the biscuit tin and babbles, you could say ‘Biscuit? You want a biscuit?’.
  • Give your child choices between two things to encourage talking. For example, instead of saying, ‘What do you want to drink?’, you could say, ‘Do you want milk or juice?’, holding both choices up in front of them.

Things to look out for

While all children develop differently, it’s worth seeking advice from a professional if your child does not:

  • Babble to talk by 12 – 15 months
  • Say their first words by 18 months
  • Appear to understand some of what you say to them by 18 months

Now i’m 18 months old I can…

Watch the video on helping your baby to speak through signing and song. Learning to talk | 1 to 2 years | Start for life (

Children develop skills at different rates but by 2 years, usually children will:

  • Concentrate on activities for longer, such as playing with a toy they like
  • Sit and listen to simple stories with pictures
  • Understand between 200 and 500 words
  • Understand more simple questions and instructions. For example, ‘where is your shoe?’ and ‘show me your nose’.
  • Copy sounds and words a lot
  • Use 50 or more single words. These will also become more recognisable to others.
  • Start to put short sentences together with 2-3 words, such as ‘more juice’ or ‘bye nanny’.
  • Enjoy pretend play with their toys, such as feeding dolly
  • Use a more limited number of sounds in their words than adults – often these sounds are p, b, t, d, m and w. Children will also often miss the ends off words at this stage. They can usually be understood about half of the time.

How to support your child

There are lots of things you can do to encourage children at this stage:

  • Talk about everyday activities like putting away the shopping. This helps children to connect language to the world around them. Remember to leave little gaps or pauses so that your child can respond.
  • Use objects and gestures to help them understand instructions and questions. It is also useful to give a child two or three options, such as, ‘do you want teddy or the car?’, ‘is this your nose or your foot?’
  • Read books together. Looking at the pictures and describing them is just as good as actually reading the story. ’Lift-the-flap’ books also help concentration.
  • Repeat and expand on what a child says. If a child says ‘juice’ you can say ‘more juice’, ‘juice please’ or ‘juice gone’. This shows your child how words can be put together to make short sentences.
  • Children learn speech sounds gradually. It is better to say the whole word back to a child rather than correcting them. It also helps them if they can see your face when you are talking to them. This helps them to watch and copy the movements of your lips.
  • Children can be frustrated when adults don’t understand them. This can lead to tantrums. Encouraging a child to use gestures or actions for objects can help. Try to be patient and wait for them to finish what they are saying or trying to show you.

Things to look out for

For some children, developing speech and language skills can be a very difficult process. They may need extra help to develop their skills. You should be concerned if by 2 years, they are:

  • Slow to follow simple instructions
  • Not saying 25 recognisable words.

Now I’m 2 years old I can …

Watch the video on helping your child to develop using the memory game. Learning to talk | 2 to 3 years | Start for life (

Children develop skills at different rates, but by 3 years usually children will:

  • Listen to and remember simple stories with pictures
  • Understand longer instructions, such as ‘make teddy jump’ or ‘where’s mummy’s coat?’
  • Understand simple ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘where’ questions
  • Use up to 300 words
  • Put 4 or 5 words together to make short sentences, such as ‘want more juice’ or ‘he took my ball’
  • Ask lots of questions. They will want to find out the name of things and learn new words
  • Use action words such as ‘run’ and ‘fall’ as well as words for the names of things,
  • Start to use simple plurals by adding ‘s’, for example ‘shoes’ or ‘cars’
  • Use a wider range of speech sounds. However, many children will shorten longer words, such as saying ‘nana’ instead of ‘banana’. They may also have difficulty where lots of sounds happen together in a word, e.g. they may say ‘pider’ instead of ‘spider’.
  • Often have problems saying more difficult sounds like sh, ch, th and r. However, people that know them can mostly understand them.
  • Now play more with other children and share things
  • Sometimes sound as if they are stammering or stuttering. They are usually trying to share their ideas before their language skills are ready. This is perfectly normal at this age, just show you are listening and give them plenty of time. It’s not helpful to draw attention to their ‘stammering’ by saying things like ‘take your time’. Just try to be patient and not interrupt them.

How to Support Your Child

There are lots of things you can do to encourage children at this stage:

  • Adding words to children’s sentences can show them how words fit together. For example, if a child says, ‘dolly hair’ you can say ‘brush dolly’s hair’
  • Often children enjoy helping. Sharing daily jobs gives a chance to talk about objects and actions
  • Use puppets and pictures to help children listen to stories. Don’t be afraid to tell a story more than once. Repetition helps children to understand and remember words
  • Give children the correct example for sounds and words. This helps if they are having problems saying a certain word or sound. If you correct them or make them say it again, you can make them feel anxious. Simply repeat what they have said using the right words and sounds. With time they will be able to do it themselves.

Things to Look Out For

For some children, developing communication skills can be very difficult. It is important that parents seek advice from a speech and language therapist if:

  • A child points or shows what they want rather than says it.
  • They only say single words instead of joining words together into short sentences.
  • They are slow to respond to your instructions.
  • They rely on being shown what to do rather than being told.
  • You cannot understand most of what they say.

Now i’m 3 years old I can

Watch the video on helping your child to develop language skills through crafting. This mum uses descriptive words and helps the child identify colours. Learning to talk | 3 to 5 years | Start for Life (

Children develop skills at different rates, but by 4 years usually children will:

  • Listen to longer stories and answer questions about a storybook they have just read
  • Understand and often use colour, number and time related words, for example, ‘red’ car, ‘three’ fingers and ‘yesterday / tomorrow’
  • Start to be able to answer questions about ‘why’ something has happened, although this still might be at quite a basic level
  • Use longer sentences and link sentences together
  • Describe events that have already happened, even if their sentences aren’t exactly like adults’ e.g. ‘we went park’
  • Enjoy make-believe play
  • Start to like simple jokes even if they don’t understand them
  • Ask many questions using words like ‘what’ ‘where’ and ‘why’
  • Still make mistakes with tense such as say ‘runned’ for ‘ran’ and ‘swimmed’ for ‘swam’
  • Have difficulties with a small number of sounds – for example r, w, l, f, th, sh, ch and j
  • Start to be able to plan games with others.

How to support your child

There are lots of things you can do to encourage children at this stage:

  • Have a special time to talk about the day. Talking about what has happened that day will help their memory skills. It will also help them to talk about things they cannot see and things that happened in the past which is an important skill for learning in school.
  • Wherever possible, use pictures, objects, puppets, acting, gestures and facial expressions. This will keep a child’s interest.
  • Talk about or play games involving opposites like ‘on and off’ or ‘big and little’
  • Join a child in pretend play. Let them take the lead. This will help their language and creativity. Talk about what they are saying and doing rather than asking lots of questions. Your commentary helps their language skills and shows you are listening and interested.
  • Reversing roles can be great fun for a child. Let them be the ‘mummy’ or the ‘teacher’. This helps them to talk about new situations
  • Play with and talk about sequences of coloured bricks or shapes, numbers and days of the week.

Things to look out for

By 3 and a half years old a child should be understood by people outside the family. If not, parents should seek advice from a speech and language therapist.

You should be concerned if:

  • They are struggling to turn ideas into sentences
  • The language they use is jumbled and difficult to understand
  • They are unresponsive or slow to follow instructions.

Now i’m 4 years old I can

Children develop skills at different rates but by 5 years usually children will:

  • Understand spoken instructions without stopping what they are doing to look at the speaker
  • Choose their own friends and play mates
  • Take turns in much longer conversations
  • Understand more complicated words such as ‘first’, ‘last’, ‘might’, ‘may be’, ‘above’ and ‘in between’
  • Understand words that describe sequences such as “first we are going to the shop, next we will play in the park”
  • Use sentences that are well formed. However, they may still have some difficulties with grammar. For example, saying ‘sheeps’ instead of ‘sheep’ or ‘goed’ instead of ‘went’
  • Think more about the meanings of words, such as describing the meaning of simple words or asking what a new word means
  • Use most sounds effectively. However, they may have some difficulties with more difficult words such as ‘scribble’ or ‘elephant’.

How to support your child

There are lots of things you can do to encourage your child at this stage:

  • Building relationships with your child’s pre-school or school is very important. Find out what topics or songs they are learning. This can help you support new words and ideas your child is learning.
  • Playing board games that involve taking turns helps them to listen and concentrate for longer.
  • Encourage children to talk without being questioned. This can help them to talk more about their experiences. Open questions like ‘what are you going to play with today?’ encourage children to say more than ‘yes’ and ‘no’. If they find it difficult to answer such open questions, give them choices, such as ‘cars or animals?’
  • Although children may know lots of different words it is important to introduce new words and phrases. This helps them to continue learning.
  • Having fun with words and rhymes can help children learn skills they need for reading and writing
  • Children may need time to think before responding to questions and instructions. Give them time without answering for them or finishing their sentences.

Things to look out for

For some children, learning to talk and understand words can be a very difficult process and they may need extra help. By 5 years you may see the following:

  • Difficulty with abstract ideas such as size or time.
  • Difficulty with complex sentences.
  • Not having the right words to be able to say what they want.
  • Difficulty organising ideas in order.
  • Missing out some words. For example, saying ‘playing ball’ instead of ‘the dog is playing with the ball’.
  • Talking about lots of different topics in the same group of sentences.
  • Not using the right sounds so that their speech is difficult to understand.

Now i’m 5 years old I can

Children develop skills at different rates, but beyond 5 years, usually children will:

  • Focus on one thing for longer without being reminded
  • Rely less on pictures and objects to learn new words
  • Use their language skills in learning to read, write and spell
  • Learn that the same word can mean two things, such as ‘orange’ the fruit and ‘orange’ the colour
  • Learn that different words can mean the same thing such as ’minus’ and ‘take away’
  • Understand feelings and descriptive words like ‘carefully’, ‘slowly’ or ‘clever’
  • Use language for different purposes such as asking questions or persuading
  • Share and discuss more complex ideas
  • Use language in a range of social situations.

How to support your child

There are lots of things you can do to encourage children at this stage:

  • Help them to learn new words, such as words to do with positions, times and size.
  • Make time to talk about your day
  • Give a child time to talk to you
  • Ask open questions like ‘tell me something you liked about today’.

Things to look out for

A child at this age should have well-developed speech and language skills.  If they are finding language difficult, you might notice that they:

  • Find it hard to learn and understand the meanings of words
  • Find it hard to understand language about things in the past or future
  • Struggle to understand phrases that can mean more than one thing, such as ‘pull your socks up’
  • Respond to just part of an instruction, usually the beginning or end
  • Use short sentences, often with words missing or in the wrong order
  • Find it hard to make up stories. This shows in written work as well as talking
  • Are not learning at school, but nobody can explain why
  • Are struggling to make and keep friends.

Talking and understanding words is a gradual process. Children develop skills at different rates but beyond 8 years, usually children will:

  • Use language to predict and draw conclusions
  • Use long and complex sentences
  • Understand other points of view and show that they agree or disagree
  • Understand comparative words e.g. ‘it was earlier than yesterday’
  • Keep a conversation going by giving reasons and explaining choices
  • Start conversations with adults and children they don’t know
  • Understand and use passive sentences where the order of the words can still be confusing for younger children e.g. “the thief is chased by the policeman”.

How to support your child

Good communication is two-way and requires good listening skills. To help a child, you will need to demonstrate good listening skills yourself. Make sure that you have time for this in your day. You may need to explain words that a child still does not know.

A child’s vocabulary will be growing. Help them to understand new words they learn by talking about their meaning. Make sure they are not afraid to ask if they don’t understand a word. If you don’t know the exact meaning of a word – look it up in a child-friendly dictionary such as Collins Co-Build.

Just by having good conversations with children, you are supporting their language. So, talk to them. Ask them how their day at school was and how their friends are. Hopefully they don’t need too much encouragement to talk. Try to encourage conversations rather than just you doing the talking.

Things to look out for

At this stage, children should have well-developed skills in their talking and understanding of words. A child who struggles with their understanding of words might show the following behaviours:

  • They may struggle to join in group conversations. This is because there is too much language.
  • They may find it hard to make up stories. This will show in their written work as well as talking.
  • Their stories may be muddled, making them difficult to follow.
  • They may find it hard to learn and understand the meanings of words.
  • They may struggle to understand language about things in the past or future.
  • They may find it hard to make predictions.
  • They may find it difficult to understand language where the meaning isn’t clearly stated e.g. when the conversation involves new concepts or involves people or objects not present and visible to the child.
  • They may be struggling to learn at school. They could find it hard to understand what it is they are supposed to be doing, even though they have been told.

Language development at this stage is a gradual process.  Changes still take place but they are harder to see. Children need to learn to develop relationships and join in social activities on their own.

What to expect between the ages of 11 and 14

At this stage children will:

  • Use longer sentences; usually 7-12 words or more
  • Build their sentences using a range of conjunctions or joining words, such as ‘meanwhile’, ‘however’, ‘except’ so that they can convey complex ideas
  • Know how to use sarcasm. Know when others are being sarcastic to them
  • Be able to change topic well in conversations
  • Use more subtle and witty humour
  • Show some understanding of idioms, such as “put your money where your mouth is!”
  • Know that they talk differently to friends than to teachers and be able to adjust this easily
  • Understand and use slang terms with friends. They keep up with rapidly changing ‘street talk’.

What to expect between 14-17 years

As they get older, young people can:

  • Follow complicated instructions
  • Know when they haven’t understood. They will ask to be told again or have something specific explained
  • Easily swap between ‘classroom’ talk and ‘break-time’ talk
  • Tell long and very complicated stories.

How to support your child

There are lots of things you can do to encourage young people at this stage:

  • Encourage opportunities to talk without making them feel under pressure
  • Use opportunities for chatting, like mealtimes
  • Give everyone a chance to talk about their day, including you
  • Help by explaining any words or phrases that they don’t understand
  • Show that you are interested by making time to listen.

Things to look out for

At this stage, children should have well-developed speech and language skills. At this age, a child might have delayed language if they:

  • Have difficulty giving specific answers or explanations
  • Have difficulty sequencing their ideas in the right order
  • Are better at understanding individual instructions than group instructions
  • Find it difficult to understand language where the meaning isn’t clearly stated e.g. be able to infer that someone wants to close the window or turn up the heating when they say ‘It’s a bit chilly in here!’
  • Find long and complicated instructions hard to understand
  • Have trouble learning new words
  • Take a long time to organise what they are going to say or write
  • Take things too literally. For example, “I’ll be back in a minute”
  • Have difficulty taking turns in conversations
  • Talk to teachers and friends in the same way.
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Where to get help

Most children can successfully develop their speech and language skills without needing specialist support from a speech therapist. 

Good progress can usually be made by: 

  • Doing activities at home
  • Getting support and advice from Families First Information Service
  • Getting expert help from your child’s nursery, preschool, or school staff

As a parent carer you know your child best and spend the most time with them.

There are lots of activities you can try at home to help support your child’s speech and language development. Doing something every day is the best way for most children to make progress.

Encourage other family members to take part. If every person who spends time with your child gets involved, it will make an enormous difference.

Resources for parents – Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust (

Resources (

Free Speech & Language Resources for Parents | Speech Works (

The N.E. Lincolnshire Families First Information Service provides free information and advice about services and activities for children aged 0-19 years.


Call- 01472 326292

Social media

Facebook- @FamiliesFirstNEL
Twitter- @FF_NELincs

All two-year-olds in North East Lincolnshire get a 2-year-old health review by a health visitor. Health visitors – NELC | NELC (

The team will contact you to arrange the meeting. You will be asked to complete a questionnaire about your child’s communication skills before the meeting. Do not be worried about this, it is not a test.

You can discuss any concerns you might have at the review. The health visitor will help you get more support if needed.

If your child is at nursery, preschool, or school, you should speak to their keyworker or class teacher. They are trained professionals who can help develop speech and language skills on a day-to-day basis. They can assess your child’s speech and language skills, and start a support process to help your child.  

Your child’s nursery, preschool, or school will use speech and language tools and strategies. It might take time to see progress.

It is important that you are involved in the support process, and the nursery, preschool, or school explains what is happening. You might be asked to come in and watch how your child is being supported.  

Your child’s place of learning should let you know how long they will use a specific tool or strategy. It will depend on your child’s level of need. The process might need to be repeated several times. You should ask to speak to the special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) if you have concerns. 

Continuing to support your child at home, doing activities and exercises, is just as important as the support where your child learns.

Your child will have the best outcomes if everyone works together.

Specialist Advisory Service

NELC SEND Local Offer | Specialist advisory service: Parents and carers (

If your child has speech, language and communication needs you may be interested in the work being done around local Autism and neurodiversity in the Autism in Schools Project.

NELC SEND Local Offer | Autism in Schools (

If your child’s speech and language skills do not improve, even after you have: 

  • Tried different activities at home
  • Raised your concerns with your health visitor or had support from your child’s nursery, preschool, or school

Your health visitor or your child’s place of learning can make a referral to the NHS speech and language therapy service.

Parents/carers can also make a direct referral themselves.

Your child does not need an education, health and care (EHC) plan to get support from the speech and language therapy service.  

Find out more about Speech and Language Therapy for children and young people in North East Lincolnshire. Services for children in North East Lincolnshire – Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust (

The Communication Trust is a coalition of over fifty not-for-profit organisations. They work together to support everyone who works with children and young people in England to support their speech, language and communication.

Their work focuses on supporting children and young people who struggle to communicate because they have speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). As well as supporting all children and young people to communicate to the best of their ability. They do this because our ability to communicate affects us in every aspect of our lives. They believe that many children could be helped to communicate better and some children need really focused support to reach their full potential.

The Communication Trust has a range of resources which parents may wish to access and use. They are available at the Communication Trust website

Today over 100,000 children and adults use Makaton symbols and signs, either as their main method of communication or as a way to support speech.

The Makaton Charity has video lessons, free resources and more. The Makaton Charity-Free resources (

We offer Makaton courses locally. Join parent carers, professionals and volunteers in learning this useful system of communication. NELC SEND Local Offer | Events and training (

Speech and language tips to get your child ready for starting school

By the time they start school, children should be able to understand simple who , what and where questions and talk in sentences so that people can understand them. They should also enjoy playing, listening to stories, joining in with nursery rhymes and having conversations. Why not try the ideas in the sections below about how you can help your child be speech and language ready for school.

Explore BBC Tiny Happy People simple activities and play ideas and find out about babies and toddlers’ amazing early development.

  • Focus your child’s attention before giving an instruction.
  • Use shorter sentences
  • Use gesture to support what you are saying
  • Create an environment with less distractions e.g. reduce background noise such as television and radio
  • Encourage your child to finish an activity before moving on
  • Encourage your child to find things for you during everyday tasks, e.g. getting dressed, going shopping, putting toys away

Read the attention and listening fact sheet for more tips

  • Follow your child’s lead see what your child is interested in playing with and play with that, rather than you choosing the toy
  • Don’t ask lots of questions, comment on what your child is doing rather than interrupting play with questions e.g. ‘dolly’s having a drink’ NOT ‘what is dolly doing?’
  • Keep language simple, match what you say to your child’s language level, so if they are using one or two words (e.g. “teddy drinking”), you use two to three words (“yes – teddy drinking juice”)
  • Model without directing play alongside but don’t force your child to do something different. If play is repetitive e.g. train up and down, get another train and do something different with it e.g. going over a bridge, through a tunnel, they are more likely to copy if they don’t feel forced to change what they are happy doing

Read the play fact sheet for more tips.

  • Make eye contact, face your child and bend down to their level before you start talking to them. Make your face more interesting to look at by exaggerating emotions on your face
  • Make activities fun. Your child will only be interested in attending to things if they are fun and interesting. If you give the impression that the activities are fun, the child is likely to think they are fun too.
  • Ask your child whether they are listening before giving them an instruction
  • Point out how characters on the television are feeling. Discuss how you know this
  • Praise good use of the skills you are working on e.g. “good looking”
  • Use visual prompt cards to reinforce the skill you are targeting
  • Make behaviour expectations clear and consistent e.g. making the child aware of not hugging everyone

Read the social skills fact sheet for more tips.

  • Model the correct grammar: repeat back the sentence using adult grammar. This helps your child learn how the sentence should be said e.g. child: “At school today the computer breaked”, adult: “Oh, at school the computer broke”. Child: “Cut stick”, adult: “Cutting and sticking”.
  • Expand on what your child says: add one piece of extra information e.g. child: “Man tree”, adult: “The man is climbing up the tree”.
  • Offer a choice: give your child a choice of what to play with/eat/drink/wear. Adapt to your child’s level of language e.g. child: “Jumper or t-shirt?”, adult: “Do you want the red jumper or the yellow jumper?”
  • Open questions: avoid questions requiring a one word answer, such as “Are the children playing on the slide?” Instead ask “What is happening in the playground?” Your child can then respond with a sentence such as “The children are playing on the slide”
  • Sentence completion: start a sentence for the child to finish e.g. adult: “The man is sitting…”, child: “on top of the house”.
  • Increase independence: for older children, repeat back your child’s sentence the way that they have said it and ask them to think of one way they could improve it.

Read the sentence building fact sheet for more tips.

  • Emphasise new vocabulary in meaningful ways e.g. “peel” when peeling a banana
  • Use pictures and objects to introduce new words
  • Use short and simple language, so your child is more likely to understand the new word
  • Do not ask your child to repeat the words after you. If they do say the word, accept what they say, how they say it and give lots of praise for the attempt (the pronunciation is not important at this moment)
  • Avoid asking “what’s that?” Tell the child what the item is called
  • Use repetition. Children need to hear words many times before remembering them.
  • Do not teach two related concepts at the same time e.g. “in/out” when describing. Use “in” and “not in” until “in” has been fully consolidated before focusing on another concept

Read the vocabulary fact sheet for more tips

  • Eye contact: when you talk to your child, make sure you get your child’s eye contact first. Face your child and bend down to their level
  • Help your child to listen: e.g. comment when you hear noises like the doorbell, dogs barking, birds singing. Try to have time without the TV or radio on so that the child can listen to other sounds
  • Praise: always praise your child when s/he has said a word clearly
  • Avoid directly correcting the speech of children with speech difficulties. Instead, make a point of speaking slowly and clearly and make sure your child is looking at you when you talk. Always repeat back wrongly pronounced words to your child so they hear the correct pronunciation.
  • Let your child know when s/he is not understood: If you do not understand, let your child know this. Encourage him/her to clarify, using one or more of the following strategies:
  • saying it again louder
  • repeating just the words that you did not understand
  • show what s/he is saying using gesture or pointing
  • asking someone else to interpret (best friend or sibling)
  • ask a forced choice question such as “Are you talking about assembly or play time?” “Is it something that happened today or yesterday?

Read the speech sounds face sheet for more tips.

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Specific language needs

If English is your child’s second language, English as an additional language support is available in schools. NELC SEND Local Offer | English as an Additional Language (

It’s important to talk to your child in the language or languages you use.

A child learning more than one language should babble and say their first words in the same way as a child learning one language.

It is important not to confuse this slight delay with language difficulties – most children quickly catch up.

For more help on languages, have a look at the parent’s questions on the National Literacy Trust website.

Stammering – About 5% of children will go through a stammering phase as they develop language. Most will recover fluent speech without intervention. However, 1 in 5 are at risk of continuing to stammer and it is important we support them by use of strategies as soon as possible.

Stammering, also sometimes referred to as stuttering, is a relatively common speech problem in childhood, which can persist into adulthood.

Stammering – NHS (

Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder that stops children from speaking in social situations such as in school, in public in certain activities. They are able to speak fluently in other situations, such as with close friends, family or when no-one else is listening. It affects about 1:140 school aged children.

Selective mutism – NHS (

Selective Mutism

Developmental language disorder – DLD stands for Developmental Language Disorder. DLD was previously known as Specific Language Impairment. Having DLD means your child may have difficulties with understanding and/or using all known languages.