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The authors of Small Talk reveal how to make your child chatty

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Speech therapist Nicola Lathey and journalist Tracey Blake are the authors of Small Talk, the new must-read for all parents wanting to improve their child’s language and communication development.

Authors of Small Talk

Tracey left and Nicola right with little ones


How did the book come about? A bit of background please…

Tracey: “Nicky and I have known each other 15 years. Our husbands used to go to school together so we’ve been friends forever.

When my little girl Minnie was about ten weeks old Nicola said to me ‘Minnie’s terribly chatty isn’t she? We’ve just had a wonderful conversation.’ I thought she was a bit bonkers – obviously ten week old babies can’t speak. But then she showed me how she was keeping eye contact with her and waiting for her to make a noise. Nicola would then respond, babbling away and wait for Minnie’s response.

It’s called The Art of Turntaking and it’s an early form of conversation. I was intrigued to learn more so I went along to Waterstones to find a book on early communication. I was really surprised that there wasn’t one and suggested to Nicky we write one. Our worlds as speech therapist and journalist came together!”

It’s estimated that about 33% of children don’t have sufficient language and communication skills for school. Did this influence your decision to write the book?

Tracey: “Absolutely. It’s an astonishing statistic. And there’s probably a number of reasons behind it not least the rise of technology; the downfall of things like family meals; parents being busier than ever and perhaps not spending so much time with their kids…”.

Nicola: “At a government level they’re on to the problem and they’re aware that it’s growing. The NHS waiting list for speech therapists is now 4.5 months. We really think this book has come at the right time.”

When should mums start talking to their baby bumps?

Nicola: “In the book there’s a section on talking to your bump which includes the turntaking technique. You wait for your baby’s kick then push the spot where baby kicks back. Scientists have found that the sound of a mother’s voice is soothing for babies from 27 weeks.”

And when can babies start interacting with mum?

Nicola: “At around four weeks babies can start ‘chatting’ and that’s the perfect time to talk to your baby in a singsongy voice – it’s called Motherese – where that lovely intonation really hooks your child. Their first sounds are cries which over time develop into vowel sounds, so around 6-10 weeks ‘aaagh’ becomes ‘ah’. Then baby gets more experimental with babbling, squeals and raspberry noises then on to actual consonant sounds that they hook up with vowels which in turn leads to ‘bab bab bab dad dad dad’.

Any key techniques for getting little ones chatting?

Nicola: “The main strategy in the book is called Say What You See – a technique that most mothers use instinctively. The idea is that language develops through play – just watch what your child is playing with then put their thoughts into words. So for example you give your child bricks to build with but actually your child is enjoying banging the bricks together. By saying ‘bang bang bang’ your voice becomes like a scratched record in their head so they’ll want to repeat that word.

Parents tend to ask children: ‘What’s that? Where’s it going?’ but much better is that we present them with the answers rather than the questions. That way we’re expanding their vocabulary and grammar by modeling language for them rather than questioning them on things that they haven’t learnt yet.

The See What You Say strategy works really well with as your child gets older too. Another key strategy is Repeat, Repeat, Repeat. If it works, do it again!

Here are some examples of practical games or exercises for different ages:

SMALL TALK TECHNIQUES FOR UP TO SIX MONTHS

Peekaboo is a lovely game. Dangle a muslin cloth over baby’s face saying ‘peeekaaaaa’ then when you see an excited little wiggle or response, pull off the cloth add say ‘boo!’ It’s great for interaction and really good fun.

SMALL TALK TECHNIQUES FOR UP TO 12 MONTHS

Ready steady go is an anticipation game that works well with a range of different activities. Say ‘ready, steady…’ then wait for your child’s vocalisation before rolling a ball, knocking down a tower or any other activity. It won’t be a lovely clear ‘go’ from the start – it’ll develop as you reward their vocalisation. Within three or four goes Tracey’s son Monty started saying ‘do’. Here’s another one. Your child sits on the sofa with daddy, mummy goes out of the room, then daddy and child call mummy back in by saying ‘mamamamama’. In comes mummy, does a little jig, then leaves. And again ‘mamamamama’ and in comes mummy again. You may wish you hadn’t started it! But it’s a great way of rewarding vocalisation with fun.

SMALL TALK TECHNIQUES FOR 12-24 MONTHS

Go around your house and take photos of things that are really important to child. Make your own Powerpoint display or slideshow on your laptop and talk about objects or family members. Monty was obsessed with cat, dada, mummy and bottle of milk. Once they have about 50 nouns they then start adding verbs and positioning words like ‘daddy running’ and ‘Monty on the cat’.

Play a simple game of “that’s not my…” and see if your child can fill in the word. Aim for ten minutes of quality small talk time together with no distractions, no phones or laptops.

What if my child doesn’t want to talk?

Nicola: “Take all the pressure off. That’s where parents go wrong. They start asking more questions: ‘what’s this, where’s that, how many’. It’s where the Say What You See strategy works so brilliantly. It gives children confidence and encourages them to speak more.

If there is an actual problem it’s good get their hearing tested. Glue ear is really very common in early childhood so it’s important to get it ruled out if your child isn’t responding as you’d like. Beyond that I’d suggest referral to a speech therapist.”

Any plans to write a follow up book?

“We’d love to! If this ones a bestseller who knows?!”

Simple ways to boost your child’s speech, language and communication development from birth By Nicola Lathey and Tracey Blake GBP £12.99 Available on Amazon.

For all your baby essentials from car seats to pushchairs to highchairs visit baby specialist Kiddicare.

86 Comments

  1. My daughter’s first word was ‘Cat’; she was obsessed with the cat, crawled around everywhere after him. He was a big old softie too and didn’t might. I reckon he was chuffed that her first word was ‘cat’.

    Andy W
    Reply
  2. My sons first word was dada…I think this is quite normal for 1st words

    Amanda Hart
    Reply
  3. my eldest’s was tree & my middle on can I have drink? (yes I know! he didn’t say a word until he could say that & he was nearly 3 )

    andrea miles
    Reply
  4. His first word was ‘babba’. It’s the name his brother called him.

    Portia Mattinson
    Reply
  5. My little boys first word was “pup” he had a cuddly puppy dog that he adored so much. He’s a little behind with his speech as he was premature but he’s getting speech therapy now and catching up a little.

    Hazel Christopher
    Reply
  6. my boys all said bye first with my twin girls they sais hiya 1st there 11 months old and been saying that a while

    Bernadette Blundell
    Reply
  7. I have twin boys Connor and Michael, Connor said “again” and Michaels first word was “up” x

    Christy Beckett
    Reply
  8. I believe my son’s first proper word (“da-da” aside) was “ball” and then lots of “b” words followed suit after that!

    Maria
    Reply
  9. Both my boys babbled dada for a long time, but my eldest childs first word that was used with the correct meaning was ‘ball’, and my youngest sons was ‘attend’, the french word for wait.

    Holly Detre
    Reply
  10. Just lovely reading all your comments – thanks so much. Keep ‘em coming! Hope you’re loving the new blog. Kiddicare x

    Kiddicare
    Reply
  11. My sons first word was dadda and my daughters first word was no lol …. probably cos i was foorever telling her older brother

    nicci cowdell-murray
    Reply
  12. My son is 16 months. He has said dada n mummy for a while and has just started saying “Harry” which is his cousins Name and for about 3 days EVERYTHING was Harry’

    Chloe
    Reply
  13. A lot of gurgling at the moment but I think there might be an odd dada in their somewhere!

    Tammy young
    Reply
  14. Pregnant with first so no first words yet but interested in the book so hope I can still be entered.

    Gemma
    Reply
  15. No worlds as such but baby understands when I ask him if he wants milk and responds with an “uhh” and a smile. He’s only 4 1/2 months so got a little while yet :)

    Caroline Sadler
    Reply
  16. My daughter’s first word was ‘yeah’ in response to questions! At 15 months she now prefers to use the word ‘no’!

    Helen
    Reply
  17. My little one is only 20 weeks old so no words yet but I think it will ‘Cat’ as he is fascinated by our 2 cats :-)

    Emma Beasy
    Reply
  18. My boy’s first proper word was Mama- whilst reaching out for a biscuit! He had said da da da before that point but I took it as babbling rather than a proper first word.

    Jaclyn
    Reply
  19. Her first word was clock – at about a year old! It was because she had a book about clocks and telling the time. Everywhere she goes she points at all the clocks and says clock (well, she says gok sometimes!)

    Caroline Mortimer
    Reply
  20. My youngest now 2 could say Hiiyaaa from around 4/5 months old. We constantly said hiya and she started to make the same sound back. She is a complete chatter box now as I’m constantly talking to her. My middle child is exactly the same, she has a great vocabulary for a 5 year old.

    Vicky Moulds
    Reply
  21. “Bobby”…. I was always saying the dogs name telling him off for one thing or another

    Kim Massey
    Reply
  22. Slightly strange but my daughters first word, or words were ‘oh dear’ – think that was my fault as I seem to say it quite a lot! so far she only says that & ‘dadda’

    STACEY WEBB
    Reply
  23. Daddy! lucky me, her mum wasn’t pleased she was hoping her name would be first

    elliot dawson
    Reply
  24. my daughter is 8.5 months and says dada and “at” for our cat but no mama yet!

    Nicola Shipston
    Reply
  25. My daughter said dada and mum mum but her first word which she said all the time was no lol x

    Gemma Tarrant
    Reply
  26. My daughter’s first word was ‘Dada’. My first son’s first word was ‘Mama’ and my second son’s first word was ‘tar’ (thank you).

    Sophie Kenworthy
    Reply
  27. My daughter is only 14 weeks so no words yet but plenty of chatter…even helping out some primary school children when they put on a Spanish fashion show at their after school club!

    Katherine Barker
    Reply
  28. We’ve not had a first word yet, but lots of “aah” and “ooh”. I’m hoping her first word will be “mama”!

    Marianne Shaw
    Reply
  29. My little boys 1st word was NO!

    He stuck with that for a while, everything was no, the. He moved on to No MumMum

    Hayley
    Reply
  30. My daughters first wird was Dadda. At 27 months she is waiting to see a speech therapist.

    Leoni
    Reply
  31. As a recently retired teacher and Senco ,I think this book is invaluable as it was hard to see children and parents in need have to join a long waiting list ,only to be seen every so often,due to shortage of or overworked speech therapist. It would have given ideas to all involved with the child’s development. Will you do a follow up?

    helen
    Reply
  32. The first real sound my daughter made was a perfect imitation of a cat meowing. Her first proper word however was ‘book’!!!

    Kat Striesow
    Reply
  33. ‘Rock You’. Sounds like I’m making it up but I’m really not! I used to listen to Queen’s ‘We will Rock You’ and my little one started singing it before he said any other words x

    Joanne Kelly
    Reply
  34. My baby is only 8 weeks so too young. However one of the sounds she has started to make sounds like ‘hiya’ which makes everyone freak out a bit when she does it!

    Lisa Wilkinson
    Reply
  35. My daughter’s first word was Dada – and she’s always been a Daddy’s girl :)

    Karen R
    Reply
  36. My sons first proper word was mama and he only said it a few weeks ago , it was one of those moments both myself and hubby had a lump in our throat as we are currently going to speech threapy with him , it was a amazing feeling to hear him say it x

    kerry thwaite
    Reply

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