At his 15-month checkup, our son’s doctor expressed concern when we mentioned that our little guy wasn’t adding new words to his vocabulary in recent months. He was a quick talker initially, getting out “Dada,” “Mama,” “Kitty” and “Doggy” within days of each other. And then he abruptly stopped saying anything new. He eagerly repeated those four words with a vengeance, his own little toddler mantra.
I started waiting longer to give in to his demanding gestures, coaxing him to verbally tell me what he wanted. That resulted in fits and frustration. I sang songs and spoke rhymes repetetively, hoping he’d blurt out the words after me. I chanted the names of his favorite items: Elmo, Bottle, Binky. He grinned back at me, silently.
Then one day I went to pick him up from my in-laws’ house after his weekly date with grandma and grandpa. “I got a cute video of him saying ‘tractor’ today,” my mother-in-law casually informed me. And there it was…evidence of my little man saying a new word, over and over and over again. “Tractor, Tractor, Tractor.” I said it to him, showed him his little tractor toy and tried to get him to say the word. Nothing. “How often does he say new words around you?” I asked. “Oh, he says something new about every week. Truck, light, lamp, food.” It turns out my boy was progressing like a champ in the verbiage department. He was a regular wordsmith! Just not around me or his dad.
I listened carefully the next time the babysitter came over to watch him while I worked. She sings to him constantly and as she started his favorite song, “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” he blurted out yet another word. “Head!” he chanted. “Head, Head, Head.” Same thing with the ABCs. “A A A A A,” he muttered in a sing-song tune. I popped into the room and he clammed up, immediately grinning mischievously and pounding on the refrigerator, his sign that he wants milk.
We’re making slow progress. I’ve started asking about the words he uses around others so that I can reinforce them at home, and I have gotten a few new ones out of him…although he still doesn’t often say new words around my husband or I for the first time. They’re always practiced on someone else first before being slowly integrated here, which is odd because he’s away from us less than ten hours per week! The kid’s gotta be storing them up just to show off around his relatives. I can’t help but think that it’s somehow my fault that he clams up around me. Maybe I baby him too much? Maybe he’s just too relaxed around me, maybe I don’t give him enough challenges.
Have you ever dealt with children displaying their talents more proficiently around strangers? Any suggestions for at-home language development?