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Woman Changing DiaperYou’ve started working with a wonderful family. It’s a large, busy family of six. The child’s mother tells you that she has great intentions to play with her toddler, Jordan, but unfortunately she never gets enough time. She feels guilty because Jordan isn’t talking and she knows that playing is so vital to his communication development.

She asks you, “What can I do during my daily routines to help develop his language?”

As a speech language pathologist and a working mother, I know it’s hard to balance many responsibilities. Here are a few things I would suggest:

  • Validate her feelings. Reassure her that while playing is very important to toddlers’ development, there are many fun and interactive ways to facilitate language during daily routines.
  • Pick a routine that just involves Jordan and his mom (e.g. getting dressed, brushing teeth, or changing his diaper). Since the household is very busy and hectic, it’s possible that Jordan doesn’t have much one on one time with a caregiver. These moments are so key because not only do they provide time for bonding but they’re also opportunities for Jordan to listen to speech and language without interruption or competition from others. It’s the quality of the moments that are meaningful. These daily routines may seem ordinary and mundane, but they are fantastic opportunities to share some quality time. If these frequent exchanges are thought of as enjoyable and special, then they’re the perfect times to embed some intervention!
  • NOW here comes the “intervention!” Actively and intentionally use the techniques of self talk and parallel talk. These are great techniques to start with when a child isn’t talking. This is because they give the child exposure to language in real time experiences. This helps toddlers realize that talking is fun. When using self talk and parallel talk, you are NOT requiring the child to respond to or imitate what you are saying. If he happens to repeat you, that’s wonderful, but please do not have the expectation that he is automatically going to imitate you.

What is Self Talk and Parallel Talk?

Self Talk

This is a speech term that simply means narrate your actions. Talk about what you are doing, seeing, eating, touching, or thinking when the child is present. If you have chosen a routine such as changing his diaper, talk about it! For example, “Poo Poo. I see poo poo!” Remember to use words and phrases that are age appropriate. Since Jordan is non-verbal, it’s not wise to give long-winded monologues. Keep it short and simple. Sound effects and silly words (e.g. stinky, poo poo, pee pee) are memorable and descriptive.

Parallel Talk

This is another speech term and it’s the sister of self talk. With parallel talk, you narrate what the child is doing. Talk about what the child is doing, seeing, eating, or touching. If Jordan is looking at a picture on the wall while you are changing him, talk about it. For example, “You see the picture. That’s a pretty picture. The tree is so big.”

My biggest take-away is to remember that the quality of the interaction is the most important factor. I hope you have found this post helpful.

How can you help families use self talk and parallel talk during daily routines?

Kimberly Scanlon, M.A. CCC-SLP, is a speech language pathologist practicing in Bergen County, NJ. She provides home based speech therapy for children and adults through her private practice Scanlon Speech Therapy, LLC. Recently, she published her first book, My Toddler Talks: Strategies and Activities to Promote Your Child’s Language Development. To learn more, please visit www.scanlonspeech.com.

5 comments on “Using Self Talk and Parallel Talk During a Familiar Routine to Stimulate Language

  • Kim: My favorite part of your post is, “It’s the quality of the moments that are meaningful!” How powerful and something every busy parent needs to hear. Thanks for such practical tips on self-talk and parallel talk.

  • As a mother of 5 (the smallest is 33 months and showing expressive language delays) and an early interventionist, I agree that finding time to play one on one with the baby can be difficult. Unfortunately, frequently even these routines get interupted by older siblings needing my attention. Encouraging busy parents to use parallel and self talk during routines is a great idea. Depending on the ages of older children, they can also be taught to use these techniques. Rewards can be given for older children that help to “teach” the baby. Even more importantly sometimes, rewards can be given to older children who stop themselves from talking for the baby or for successfully “playing dumb” when they know what their brother or sister is crying for. But honestly, I never realized how hard it was to remember to brush with the Nuk brush 3 times a day until I started trying to do it myself!!!

    • I love the idea of teaching the siblings to help! I’ve found that older sibs love to be teachers and feel like grown-ups getting to help their younger brother/sister!

      And I completely agree about how eye-opening it can be to be on the receiving end of EI! My son was in EI too and it was really hard to stretch him throughout the day – these were stretches I’d suggested parents do for years as an interventionist. There’s nothing like trying to implement strategies in your own life to give you perspective on the work we do with families! 🙂

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