Helping Families Support Early Communication Development in Young Children

Image from, CC0
Image from, CC0

By Juliann Woods, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

More than ever, research indicates the incredible role of families in their children’s communication development.  We are learning more and more about early brain development and how parents and other caregivers can contribute to the social, emotional and communication development of babies from day one.  In fact, some of what we are learning may be counter to the way we were raised or the way our extended family believes is most appropriate.  For example, did you know parents are now encouraged to engage in multiple forms of appropriate physical touch to foster social connectedness and security for babies?  These forms of touch are not just brief hugs before and after naps, or during distress, but any time and every time the baby is interested!  Zero to Three provides a great overview of this information in this video.  

Babies typically share eye contact with adults as early as 6-8 weeks which helps to build attachment and social communication [1].  When adults and babies look directly at each other, babies try to communicate more often.  When adults respond with a word or action, babies can try again and take another turn. [2]

These simple exchanges are the beginning of conversations – the back-and-forth interactions that build a child’s participation with a communication partner.  When you pair quality back-and-forth interactions with hearing and repeating meaningful words, it creates a win-win situation for the child’s social communication learning! This video from the Hanen Centre further discusses the importance of these types of interaction. 

What else do parents need to know to promote early communication and language development when they are concerned about their child or he/she has a disability or developmental delays? Often, they need to be aware of ways to make the most of their everyday routines and activities to provide additional attention, use special strategies, or provide more opportunities for their child to practice and learn communication skills.  Because of the importance of the relationship between the parent and child, we know that parents can be terrific communication partners for their child.  They may, however, need information and coaching from an early intervention professional to learn strategies that will  help them engage their child in conversations and social interaction to teach communication and language skills. The good news is that it does not have to take extra time and energy, special toys, or expensive materials to support a child’s development in this way. Military family members experiencing a separation due to deployment, can still participate in ways that are meaningful, enjoyable, and facilitate early communication and language development!

In our next webinar on September 27, 2018, we will begin to explore early social communication intervention strategies that early intervention professionals can encourage caregivers to use during everyday routines and activities.  To prepare for the discussion, please watch Kris and Kiyah’s eleven minute home visit video prior to the webinar.  In the live webinar, we will break down the components of this home visit, discuss the strategies used by the early intervention provider, and reflect on the coaching process to support Kiyah’s increased use of communication throughout her daily routines and activities.

[1] Erhard-Weiss, D., Meltzoff, A. N., & Brooks, R. (2007). Eyes wide shut: The importance of eyes in infant gaze following and understanding other minds. In R. Flom, K. Lee, & D. Muir (Eds.), Gaze following: Its development and significance (pp. 217-241). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

[2] Parlakian, R. (2016).  It takes two:  The roots of language learning. Retrieved from

This post was edited by Robyn DiPietro-Wells & Michaelene Ostrosky, Ph.D., members of the OneOp FD Early Intervention team, which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about OneOp FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, and on YouTube.

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