Make Him Use His Words

Recently, over the holidays, I was told by a family member that we should not be signing with Ben but, instead, making him use his words. This is a touchy subject with us.

Let me back track.

At Ben’s 18 month well visit, I knew I was going to be asked the dreaded question. “How many words does he say?” At the time, he was saying maybe 3 words consistently: Mama, Dada, and Ball. I knew he would not fall in the range that he “should” be in  and I had already planned to discuss is lack of talking with his pediatrician.

His pediatrician? I love him. We discussed Ben’s lack of words and his doctor assured me that it is very common with younger siblings. He does, after all, have an older brother who likes to do his talking for him. Why should he talk? He asked me a few other questions such as “Does he follow directions?” and “Does he try to imitate sounds?” Both of which I answered yes.

I was then told that Ben has an expressive language delay. Expressive language refers to the use of words and sentences to communicate what we think, need, or want.

So you see, dear family member, he can’t simply use his words. He doesn’t have words to use! By signing, he is communicating his needs to us without getting frustrated. Because, let’s face it, would you rather have him have a meltdown over not being able to tell us what he needs or have him sign to us what he wants, get it, and be his happy self?

That’s not to say that we aren’t trying to help grow his expressive language. I turned to a blogger friend, who happens to be a speech therapist, to pick her brain a little bit. Mindi from Simply Stavish provided me with some great tips to help Ben “use his words.”

Activities for Expressive Language Delay

1. Offer him two choices during everyday situations.  When you are getting him dressed hold up and label pants and then shirt and have him chose which one.  He may not say it but just the act of him selecting it is a choice.  Then restate “Oh good you chose the pants. Let’s put on your pants.”  So this is just repeating and re-highlighting the word pants.

2.  When reading stories to him don’t pay so much attention to all the words but point to and label pictures in the book.  Stories with a few pictures on each page, like Brown Bear Brown Bear {which happens t be one of his favorite books!} are great for this. For more specific ideas and strategies for reading take a look at her post, Sharing Books with Your Toddler.  

3.  Instead of giving him long sentences make your sentences shorter.  This way he has a chance to absorb what you are saying and is more likely to try to repeat.

4.  Her post on how to grow his skills while playing with cars and trucks is awesome! It also has a bunch of info that you could incorporate into other play activities.

Since Ben’s 18 month well visit, his speech has improved! We have a few more words that he says consistently {Mama, Dada, apple, ball, Pop Pop, No, and Sit Down}. We have also worked on animal sounds {his favorite is roaring like a lion}. My concern level for his developing language skills have lessened, although, it can get frustrating for everyone when he can’t quite say what he wants.

expressive language delay

But we are working on it!

Thank you, Mindi, for giving me some great tools to help my son and for easing my concern with his speech! It was a big help. If you want more information on Expressive Language Delay, Mindi will be featuring my questions next month in her “What Every Parent Should Know about...” series.



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  1. Shaun had the same issue. Sabreena was so much older than him she did ALL the talkung for him. He went through some therapy and hes all good.

  2. We are dealing with this too. Our first son was super chatty and clear early on, but my 21 month old talks in another language, I think! It is starting to get much better – and literally he began using decipherable words over night. These tips are helpful though and I will definitely incorporate some of them!

  3. Wonderful post. My son has an expressive language delay, as well. He started the early intervention speech therapy program when he was two years old. Just recently, when he turned three, he transferred over to the preschool program, where he is really making a lot of progress. I think being around the other kids is really helping him out a lot. Looks like you’re doing a great job for Ben. Mindi is a great resource, I met her at Blogher12…love her!

  4. Steph, honestly, this post made my morning! H is almost 15 months old. My first two were talking like crazy by now. I know that that is totally outside the norm, but H hasn’t even said his first word yet. He babbles all the time! While I am completely aware that I am most likely overthinking everything (as I always do), reading this post just made me feel great today. We are going to start reading some of these books, I am going to try to change the way I talk to him, AND I am headed over to read your friends post on playing! Thanks Steph!

  5. At 2 years old my middle child could say no and da. That was it. I was at a bit of a loss because my older one could carry full conversations and sounded like an adult at the same age! After some speech evaluations we learned he had some oral motor issues and with speech therapy he progressed a ton in a year. Now at age 10, he doesn’t stop talking.

  6. I love baby sign language! Whoever thought about teaching babies to communicate when they can’t speak the words is a genius. My kids signed “all done” after meals well up to 2 years old… mainly because it was something they remembered more than the words.

  7. When I was a little kid, I didn’t talk until I was 3. The Dr said it was because I was able to communicate without works to my mom and since I was with her most all day, everday, I just didn’t have the need to talk.
    I’m sure they didn’t know what to call it at that time, but when I did start talking, I said A LOT. It will be interesting to see in Ben does the same thing!

  8. Jesse was like Ben. He rarely said more than moma dadda bottle and bub. He spent a great deal of his first 3 years in and out of hospitals with various allergies that stumped even doctors because nearly every one caused respiratory issues. When he was 2 1/2 well past the age for RSV he got chicken pox from older brother. Within a day he was nearly unresponsive, by day 2 he was a rag doll. A trip to the ER from the doctors office was a scare we will never forget, followed by a life flight the next morning to a childrens hospital. There he wound up in a drug induced coma because a doctor thought my telling him he was allergic to albuterol was crazy and gave it to him anyway. When he came off life support they told us his throat would be raw and his speech would be a whisper. Umm yeah not so much. We swore they put liquid dictionary in one of the many IVs he had during his illness. He hasn’t shut up since. literally

  9. We love asking Owen to point to different things in his books, and have really found that he’s improved with his speech (he’s a non-DC kid, so he’s been a little behind) since we got him the Tag Jr reading system. He LOVES to get his scout and sit and read, and gets excited when he does what the reading thing told him to do or find. The best for word repetition is Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? It’s AWESOME!!
    You guys are doing really well! keep it up!

  10. Whenever I hear things like this, it reminds me of a family I used to babysit in high school. The youngest didn’t speak one word until he was three years old because his sister did the talking for him. That little boy just graduated from Harvard Law at the top of his class, and was offered a job at a top law firm months before he even graduated.

    So, yeah, suffice it to say he caught up. And B. will, too. 😉

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