Modeling: A Super-Strategy for Language Growth

dad, daughter, man, girl, hug, white, plaid, pillow, happy, relationships

As an early-intervention speech therapist, one of the most important aspects of my job is teaching parents tools they can use to support language skills at home. Sometimes parents feel nervous imitating the strategies I use, or are unsure that they can carryover these approaches effectively when therapy is over.

To help parents feel confident and engaged in the therapy process, I teach them one super- strategy that encompasses all of the therapeutic approaches I use. This strategy is called “modeling” and it can help every child develop robust expressive language skills. Modeling is not only for language delayed children. It can and should be used with any child, in any parent-child interaction. Parents simply need to learn how to use it.

What is modeling?

Modeling is the process of utilizing your complete speech and language system to help your child’s developing speech and language system grow. You model the expressive language you would like your child to develop, rather than correcting or out-right instructing them to say certain words, phrases, sentence structures, etc. You can model any aspect of speech or language that you would like your child to develop.

Would you like them to expand their sentences from 2 words to 4 words? Model 4 word utterances. Develop clearer speech? Model slow, clear, over articulated speech.

Express their emotions in an effective way? Model positive coping strategies. Any time you are engaging with your child, remember that in every interaction you are teaching them how to communicate.

Using this strategy, your home will become a language-rich environment in which your child’s communication skills can flourish.

4 Types of Modeling

Recasting: Expanding your child’s utterances by repeating something he or she says with more detailed language, or more grammatically correct language. For example… The child says, “go choo choo!” Parent responds: “Yes! The choo choo is going fast!” Child says: “Daddy goed!,” Parent responds: “Yes, Daddy went to work! Bye Daddy!”

Self-Talk: Narrating your actions to provide a model of correct expressive language. I encourage you to talk about anything and everything that you are doing to provide as many models of language as possible. Self-talk can be used to help children learn labels of common actions and objects in their environment, varying sentence structures, and/or functional language that may help them when they are upset.

For example, you may describe what you are doing as you serve dinner: “I’m putting the peas on Tommy’s red plate!”

Or you may describe your emotions and coping strategies in challenging moments: “I can’t find my keys. I’m feeling mad. I’m going to take a deep breath and ask daddy to help me.”

Parallel-Talk: Narrating your child’s actions throughout any activity. You may narrate what your child is doing, seeing, hearing, eating, etc.

For example: “You’re coloring with the red crayon! You made a big red fire truck,” or “You are eating! You’re eating the banana. Yummy banana!”

Focused Stimulation: Providing repeated models of a specific vocabulary word you would like your child to develop. When using this tool, you repeat the word at least 10 times within 1 activity. Repeat the target word in meaningful contexts to increase your child’s likelihood of acquiring the language.

For example: “The baby is hungry. He loves to EAT. He wants to EAT the banana. EAT, baby, EAT the banana! He is EATING all of his food. Does he want to EAT an apple? EAT the apple baby!”

Ages and Stages

Modeling can be used at any stage of a child’s development. When you are deciding what language to model, think about the next step that your child should take in the development of their communication skills.

For example, if your child is mainly using 1 word utterances, model 2-word utterances (e.g., child says “Go;” parent models “Go choo choo! Go fast!”). If your child begins to use 2-word utterances, push their expressive language one step further and model 3-4 word utterances (e.g., child says “Go choo choo,” parent models “The choo choo goes fast!”).

As always, provide your child with tons of praise for any and all use of verbal language, particularly when they imitate your model.

In the next post, I will discuss how modeling can be used to teach your child emotional regulation and social communication skills. 


Lizzie Gavin a speech-language therapist and the founder of LG Speech Therapy, a private speech therapy practice in New York City. She specializes in treating language, learning, and social communication disorders. You can contact Lizzie through her website, www.lgspeechtherapy.com or her email address: [email protected]

Like what you read? JOIN the Mommybites community to get the latest on FREE online classesparenting adviceeventschildcare listingscasting calls & raffles, and our Parents With Nannies Facebook group. SIGN UP NOW

Tags: ,