July 13, 2017
by Mary Pat

Two small but powerful words that affect your child’s language development

So your child has started talking and you find yourself saying ‘What’s that?’ A lot. Sometimes you get an answer, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you child looks at you with a puzzled expression on their face. To find out why this isn’t the best way to build your child’s language or have a conversation with them, try this quick experiment.

What’s that?

What’s that?

What’s that?

Last one! What’s that?

So I’m hoping you had some trouble naming the things in the pictures precisely using one word! That’s what it’s like for children when we say ‘What’s that?‘ It tests their knowledge. It can feel confusing and uncomfortable. Like we know an answer is required but we can’t answer. And we’re not sure which bit of the picture are we supposed to have a name for.


That’s the problem with that innocent-sounding question ‘What’s that?‘ It’s not a genuine question because for a question to be really authentic, we’re not supposed to know the answer! Otherwise, what’s the point in asking? It doesn’t help language development either because it’s testing not teaching. And it kills conversation. When you ask this question, it’s probably not clear to your child what exactly you’re talking about. Think of the last picture- was it the honeycomb or that wooden thing that you tried to name? You knew it had something to do with honey but what exactly is it called?


So, what’s a more helpful thing to say? Let’s look at those pictures again but this time, I’m saying what the thing in the picture is and not asking you ‘What’s that?’

It’s a gong from a Buddhist temple.

It’s a partial solar eclipse.


It’s the roof of a Buddhist monastery.

It’s a honey dipper.

So instead of a question that tests your child’s knowledge and stops conversation, try a comment where you name what your child is looking at.

Instead of ‘What’s that?’ Try ‘Hello birdie’. or ‘ It’s a cloud.

For learning nouns or the names of things, this is the best way to build your child’s noun vocabulary. You need what’s called joint attention where your saying the name of the object follows your child’s focus on the object. Like in this photo where the father and little girl are both looking in the same direction and pointing together:

He might be saying something like: big cloud or fluffy cloud. They’re also at the same level physically. Why’s that important? Find out why in my last post here.


It doesn’t work when we draw their attention to something that we’re looking at and they aren’t. See in the next photo how she’s pointing and looking at something while the boy’s attention and focus is elsewhere? That’s how not to do it.

So there you have it! To build noun vocabulary, you need to be looking at the same thing together. Then you say the name of the thing- that’s your turn. One way children develop language is through imitating what they hear around them so instead of testing them, you can ‘teach’ them the words instead. Turn your questions into comments!

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June 29, 2017
by Mary Pat

It’s all in your eyes….

There are two small tweaks you can easily make which will have a big impact on your communication with your child. It will boost their language development. And it’ll help them calm down when they’re upset or angry. They’re so simple but so powerful. For language development and communication, all you do is make sure you are face to face with them. So you hunker down or squat so that you’re at their eye level. When they’re upset, you need to be below their eye level. For what this might look like, have a look at Talk Nua’s Facebook page here.

‘That’s all’, you ask? Yes, but it’s really powerful! How so? Read on to find out!

2 reasons why being face to face is good to do:

# 1 It helps language development

Children learn to take turns very early on- when they’re feeding. So while they’re feeding all is generally quiet; we tend not to talk while they’re feeding. And all that lovely eye contact starts there too. Then, when they stop feeding, we start to talk to them; we take our turn. When our children are babies, there’s a lot of face to face interaction. We pick them up and wiggle them to make them laugh; all the while looking at each other. They laugh and we respond by wiggling them again. But gradually as they get older, we tend to forget to be face to face. We may take the lead more often than not by asking questions or trying to get them to perform in some way. ‘Say ball’ and so on.

One of the best ways to help their language along is by giving them opportunities to start the conversation. And that starts by being face to face and waiting. Following what they’re interested in makes them want to interact with you more and it lets you get to know them better. That goes for adults too I think! We like it when the person we’re talking to shows interest in what we’re talking about rather than them trying to steer the conversation to what they want to talk about. Being face to face is the first step towards more connection in interaction and one of the key strategies in the Hanen It Takes Two to Talk programme. That programme is for children whose speech and language are not developing as expected but it’s a good principle for interacting with any small child.

If we use too many questions or direct the conversation too much, then they’re missing out on opportunities to practice the new words they’re learning. They learn words better if we comment on what they’re interested in rather than trying to draw their attention to something else. They need experience of both initiating and responding in conversation. When we’re face to face, it’s easier to hear each other and they get to see our facial expressions more clearly. And we can read their expressions better too.

#2 It helps regulate them when emotions are running high

So let’s say your child has done something that frustrates or annoys you. It’s written all over your face, your body language, your tone of voice– you’re fuming. And they know it. When emotions get high like this, it triggers what Daniel Siegel and Tanya Payne Bryson call the downstairs brain. They feel threatened which sets off a fight, flight, freeze, or faint reaction. They can’t think straight. This is not a teachable moment and no problem solving is possible. When you hunker down and put yourself below their eye level, their brain stops perceiving you as a threat and their physiology calms down. Then their upstairs brain can engage and they can handle themselves better. For this type of situation, you need to be below eye level not at eye level. Now you’re the opposite of threatening. Depending on the situation, this might mean sitting on a chair, lying on the bed or floor. Your body needs to be relaxed with open posture too so the message you’re sending is I’m here for you. I’ll help you.


If you do this regularly, you will see a difference- you can’t help but connect more with them when you are face to face.

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Be sure and leave a comment below to let me know how you got on when you tried being face to face or below eye level.

Let’s get talking!



June 15, 2017
by Mary Pat

What not to say to your kids about money

Money doesn’t grow on trees

I’m not made of money

It’s too expensive

We can’t afford it

Money is the root of all evil

Just enough to make ends meet


These are the messages about money that I remember from my childhood. Not very helpful for learning how to manage money! We also got pocket money but didn’t have to do anything to earn it- another poor money lesson. There’s no such thing as money for nothing!! I did learn some good habits too, to be fair, like saving– remember Henry Hippo from the Ulster bank? And always living within my means. I love stationery and once on holidays in Dublin, I came across this pink, perfumed diary with a lock that I just had to have! I’d spent all my money already though and went pleading to my father. I’ll always remember him saying ‘You have to learn to live within your means’. I probably remember it because he still bought me the diary! But the lesson stuck.


I want to do things differently for my little girl. Last year I came across the wonderful Ann Wilson a.k.a. The Wealth Chef. Her book of the same name is really effective for changing your money habits. What about your children though? She recently did a video about this on Facebook (you can watch the whole thing here ). I started putting her suggestions into practice and it’s been really interesting! So first of all, I decided on an amount of ‘pocket money’ per week. I had no clue really so I just went with what I felt was a reasonable amount for a 6 year old so it’s €5 a week. Then myself and my little girl did a list of jobs that she would do in order to earn the money and we taped it to the door of the living room. What kind of jobs? This really depends on your situation. So for us at the moment, it’s things like having her school bag all packed and ready each morning, tidying up all her toys each evening, putting clothes in the washing machine, making cards for me to send to people, and so on. The basic idea is that money is an exchange of value so the value in making the cards is that I don’t have to go and buy them and people like them. It can be kind of hard to come up with jobs that are worth paying for as opposed to things she needs to do without expecting money. Like homework for instance. But we had great chats about what jobs to put on the list. And it’s interesting to see what motivates her and what doesn’t. She did try to get me to pay her for hugs!


Then Ann Wilson suggests the following spending plan. I like her idea of spending plan rather than budget. It feels more abundant to me. So, starting at age 3 and up to age 5, she suggests 3 pots: Spend, Save, and Share. You give your child the money they’ve earned in the following proportions: 50% Spend, 40% Save, and 10% Share. So Spend is easy. This is money to spend when you get it. Save is the money they save in order to buy something like a doll or a tutu or whatever takes their fancy!  And Share is money that they use to give to charity or maybe buy a present for someone they love. The idea of the Save pot is to teach them how to set a goal, take the steps needed to reach the goal, and to wait. Depending on what they want to save for, you can offer to go 50/50 with them so they don’t have to wait for months!


They learn so much by doing this. They’ll learn the different coins, the amounts they stand for, cent vs euros/dollars, numbers, and the concept of quantity and value. Goal setting. Patience. What they’re prepared to do to achieve their goal.


For 6 – 9 year olds, you add an extra pot Grow. This pot is like investing and you agree to pay them interest for the money they put in here. I give my little girl 10% interest at the end of the year. The money for this age range is divided up as follows:  50% Spend, 20% Save, 20% Grow, and 10% Share. For children in this age range they can set short term or long term savings goals- it’s up to them to decide. You use actual pots- here are ours: nothing fancy, you just want to get started. It’s good too if you can have the pot match in size the % of the whole amount that goes into it as a visual reminder. But don’t stress about that- getting it up and running is the most important thing.


So at the moment, my little girl is choosing to combine her Spend and Save so she can buy Barbie Fashionista dolls. The first thing she wanted to buy was a Barbie Pet Mobile that was going to take about 8 weeks to wait for even with a cash injection from me and her granny! We marked out the Saturdays (pay day!) on the calendar and she had no problem waiting. She has started to get more impatient since though! But we still have great conversations about what she wants to aim for, how much it costs, how long it will take, is she prepared to wait that long, is it worth it? We’ve also had great chats about the marketing strategy of scarcity and how your brain can trick you into impulse buying if you think things are running out. And how shops are trying to get you to part with your money. And the difference between wants and needs.


When they go to spend the money too, encourage them to do the transaction, get the receipt, and make sure the change is correct. All highly useful skills to learn for life.


For older children then, (age 10-12 -although you could do a version of this with 6-9 year olds), Ann Wilson suggests that 4 times per year, you sit down and talk about what they need in terms of clothes and shoes for the following 3-4 months. You set the amount and you plan the spend together. You give them the money and if they come in under budget, they get to keep what’s left over.


Finally, for the 10-12 year olds, you add another pot for Joy or Playing or whatever they want to call it. This is money you spend on things or experiences that really bring you joy. Does this bring me joy? is a question from Marie Kondo’s book about decluttering and is really useful for life in general. The pots for 10-12 year olds are as follows:  10% Joy, 50% Spend, 20% Growth and 10% Share.


When you talk about money in this way, it takes the emotion out of it and makes it more neutral. You’ll be amazed at how your child gets the hang of the system and it’s so interesting to watch them take it all in and make their own decisions. She also suggests that you divide up any money they get as presents into the pots too. I haven’t done this yet- I save any money she gets as a present but I’m working my way towards being able to let go!!


This website A Mighty Girl has useful resources for teaching children about money. You can find it here.


One last thing- you’re going to the shop and your child asks you to buy them something. You say No and they say Why? Answer with That’s not how I want to spend my money today.  So they’re hearing a model of conscious directing of your money rather than messages of lack.

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May 15, 2017
by Mary Pat

Will speaking more than one language put your child at risk of stuttering?

In my last post you found out all about stuttering in pre-school children in general. What does it sound like? When does it start? What are the risk factors? And most importantly, what you can do when your pre-schooler starts to stutter. You can read it here. The 10 Dos and Don’ts in the post apply to everyone.


This week’s post is about stuttering when your child speaks more than one language. This is a complex topic! Stuttering is an intricate problem to understand and treat no matter how many languages you speak. The research is very limited. It’s hard to find definite answers for families who speak more than one language.

Speaking more than one language and the risk of stuttering is still being debated in the research. No studies in the last 16 years have actually focused on the frequency of stuttering in non-Western cultures and it’s not clear why. There’s been little progress in the research about stuttering and speaking more than one language. Right now, in the existing research, there isn’t even basic evidence to support or contradict a claim that speaking more than one language puts your child at risk for a stutter. Remember that fact if a health care professional tells you otherwise. The evidence either way just isn’t there yet.  (I’ve put the research I read at the end of the post for you) There’s no justifiable reason for suggesting that a child who begins to stutter should drop a language. Language is for communication, emotion, family, and relationships. And dropping a language is not the answer.

The Stuttering Foundation (a U.S.-based not-for-profit organisation) says that no evidence has been found to suggest that speaking two languages in the home since birth causes stuttering. Colin Baker (a well-respected author on bilingualism) says the same thing. The Stuttering Foundation also says that there’s no indication that teaching your child a third (or 4th etc.) language causes stuttering. Additional languages are often introduced around age four, which can be a critical age for both language-learning and stuttering. Now they also say that if you notice that your child’s language isn’t developing as expected or you notice the beginning signs of stuttering, you do need to see a speech and language therapist. They mention holding off on the introduction of an additional language in these case until after age 6. But if your child needs 2 or more languages to communicate, then holding off may not be an option.


People who speak more than one language and stutter, including pre-schoolers, tend to stutter in both of their languages. Stuttering might happen a little more in the less-developed language. As competence in the less developed language increases, stuttering usually disappears.


So in the face of all this mixed information, what should you do? I think it’s a good idea to consult a speech and language therapist who specialises in stuttering. Find out what are their approaches to treating young children who stutter. If they tell you to drop a language that your child needs to function in their home, school, or community, don’t do it. While you’re waiting for an appointment, use the 10 Dos and Don’ts in my last post which you can read here.


If you like this post, please pass it on to your friends.

Let’s get talking!


What I read:

Multilingual Aspects of Fluency Disorders (2011) edited by Howell and van Borsell.

National Stuttering Foundation http://www.stutteringhelp.org/

Colin Baker’s A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism

Practical Intervention for Early Childhood Stammering: Palin PCI Approach by Elaine Kelman and Alison Nicholas

Yairi, E. & Ambrose, N. (2013) Epidemiology of stuttering: 21st century advances. Journal of Fluency Disorders 38(2): 66-87.

Description of multilingual participants who stutter by Geoffrey A. Coalson∗, Elizabeth D. Pena˜ 1, Courtney T. Byrd2 Journal of Fluency Disorders 2013 38:141-156.

Vonga, E.,Wilson, L. & Lincoln, M. (2016). The Lidcombe Program of early stuttering intervention for Malaysian families: Four case studies. Journal of Fluency Disorders 49: 29-39.

Schenker, R. (2011). Multilingual children who stutter: clinical issues. Journal of Fluency Disorders 36: 186-193.


April 19, 2017
by Mary Pat

47 Books & 8 Movies That Every Health Care Professional Needs to Read & See

A new student society has been set up in the university where I work. It’s called The Health Care Society and the whole point is to put the patient and the patient’s voice at the center of health care. This is something I’m very passionate about. So I’ve put together a list of the best books and movies that I’ve seen and read so far that give insight into what it’s like to be the person experiencing the illness or condition. No-one knows it like the person living it.

So let’s start with the books. These are all excellent reads and will move you both to laughter and to tears. I’ve read them all and ruined my mascara repeatedly! I’ve divided them into 4 different categories.

#1 First person accounts

  1. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean Domnique Bauby
  2. Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin
  3. My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor
  4. Expecting Adam by Martha Beck
  5. I Think There’s Something Wrong With Me by
  6. The Wounded Story Teller by Arthur Frank
  7. Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient by Norman Cousins
  8. Meaning of a Disability: The Lived Experience of Paralysis by Albert Robillard
  9. Staring at Lakes by Michael Harding
  10. Hanging with the Elephant by Michael Harding
  11. Ten Thousand Joys & Ten Thousand Sorrows: A couple’s journey through Alzheimer’s by Olivia Ames Hoblitzelle
  12. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi
  13. My Left Foot by Christy Brown
  14. Like Sound Through Water: A Mother’s Journey Through Auditory Processing Disorder by Karen J. Foli
  15. The Impossible Just Takes a Little Bit Longer by Art Berg
  16. If You Could Hear What I See by Kathy Buckley
  17. Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison
  18. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
  19. Paula by Isabelle Allende
  20. The Horse Boy: A Father’s Miraculous Journey to Heal His Son by Rupert Isaacson
  21. We Need To Talk About Grief: How to Be a Friend to the One Who’s Left Behind by Annir Broadbent

Your suggestions

# 1 Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

#2 The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

#3 My Donkey Body: Living With a Body That No Longer Obeys You by Michael Wenham

# 4 Against the Odds: Living with Motor Neurone Disease by Andy McGovern

#5 Ghost Boy by Martin Pistorius


#2 Books about conditions

  1. The Autistic Brain by Temple Grandin
  2. Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism by Barry Prizant
  3. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks.
  4. Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks
  5. Migraine by Oliver Sacks
  6. An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks
  7. Seeing Voices : A Journey into the World of the Deaf by Oliver Sacks
  8. When the Brain Can’t Hear by Terri James Bellis
  9. The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doige

 #3 Fiction

  1. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
  2. The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion
  3. House Rules by Jodi Picoult
  4. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon
  5. Still Alice by Lisa Genovi
  6. Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
  7. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
  8. Great Small Things by Jodi Picoult
  9. She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb
  10. I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb
  11. We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

 #4 Medical Memoirs

  1. Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh
  2. On the Move by Oliver Sacks

Your Suggestions

# 1 In My Room by Jim Lucey

And here are the movies some of which are made from the books- I always prefer the book first!


  1. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
  2. Inside I’m Dancing
  3. My Left Foot
  4. Untouchable
  5. Me Before You
  6. Brene Brown Empathy vs Sympathy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw

Your Suggestions

#1 Patch Adams

#2 El Mar Adentro/ The Sea Inside

I’d love to hear about what other books you’ve read or movies you’ve watched that put the person’s experience at the center, rather than focusing on labels or deficits. Be sure and leave a comment below telling their names.

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March 30, 2017
by Mary Pat

10 Dos and Don’ts For When Your Pre-School Child Starts to Stutter

My little girl started to stutter when she was 2 & ½ years old. And although I knew the theory, it didn’t stop me from filling up with anxiety about it. This post is for you if your young child has started to stutter. (Stuttering and stammering are basically the same thing) The kind of speech I’m talking about here  is called normal non-fluency. It’s also called developmental fluency. It’s most common between ages 1 & ½ and 5 years of age. Or 2 and 4 depending on where you read. The American Speech Language Hearing Association say that about 95% of people who stutter, start stuttering before age 5. It sounds like this:

#1 Repeating syllables once or twice (parts of words) li-li-like this

#2 Repeating whole words once or twice but but I want to stay

#3 Hesitations or pauses

#4 Fillers like uh and er and um The dog is uh black.

 These kinds of disfluencies as they’re called, tend to come and go. So you might notice them for a few weeks. Then they go away and then after several weeks, they come back again. With my little girl, it seemed to me that the stuttering came back when she was going through a growth spurt. She’d grow a bit, stutter for a few weeks, and then it would go away again. She’s 6 and 1/2 now and it’s gone for at least a year.


In young children, these disfluencies tend to be effortless- no tension as your child is not aware of them. I know with my little girl, they were effortless and she never seemed to notice them. But then we never remarked on it. One day, my mother did say to her I think you have so much to say that you have a stutter. (I nearly died!)  I just held my breath and noticed my little girl looking at my mother with a kind of What the bleep are you talking about? expression and then moving on- phew!! I didn’t know what to say to my mother so  I said nothing. Later, I asked a colleague who specializes in working with children who stutter what to say when people comment. She suggested saying, lightly, ‘Oh that’s normal for her age’.

The other thing to remember is that everybody hums and haws when they talk, to varying degrees. We start a sentence and then change our minds and pause and start again. We use those fillers like uhm and ah while we try to put our thoughts in order. I noticed after a while that she sounded like my husband! (Hope he’s not reading this!) So she was learning from the model she was exposed to.

These disfluencies are often happen alongside spurts of speech and language development. How many people are affected by stuttering in genera;? About 5% of the population is thought to stutter at any one time in their lives- this is from childhood to adulthood. But it’s a bit of a head-wreck trying to find a definite number because studies tend to vary in how they carry out the research.  When stuttering first starts, the ratio of boys to girls tends to be equal. By the time they start school the ratio is 3 boys to every 1 girl. There’s a higher likelihood of stuttering in an identical twin if one of them stutters. But for non-identical or fraternal twins, the chances are the same as for anyone else.


Do children grow out of it? The 24 months between age 2 & 4 is considered to be the time window for both the peak numbers in terms of it starting and children recovering naturally. And rates of growing out of it range from 68%- 96%. Again, the issue with the variety in how studies are conducted….it’s not black and white. And it’s very hard to identify which children will grow out of it and which children will go on to develop a stutter.


Is your child at risk of developing a stutter? The most straightforward information I could find comes from The American Stuttering Foundation who have a useful checklist of risk factors.

Having a parent, sibling, or other family member who still stutters is considered a risk factor. Other risk factors are starting to stutter after 3 ½ years of age, the stuttering lasting 6-12 months or longer, being a boy, having delayed language, (I’ll be posting about this soon so be sure and sign up to Talk Nua) and having speech that is difficult to understand. I have a post about that which you can read here: http://talknua.com/would-you-know-if-your-child-had-a-speech-problem/


What can you do about it? Here are 10 ways to support your child’s fluency:

#1 Slowly, Slowly

I speak fast and I realised that when my daughter started to stutter, she was trying to keep up with me! So I focused on slowing down- still sounding natural, just not at full tilt. Keep it slow and relaxed. This sets the scene for relaxed communication in general. And when we talk too fast, it makes it harder for our child to organise their thoughts, and express themselves. Make sure your body language is relaxed too- you’re not leaking impatience in your facial expression or tapping fingers.

# 2 Pause

Pause before you speak- maybe count to 3 before responding- all part of creating an environment that will support fluent speech. This is also good for giving your child the space to start a conversation if they feel like it. The Stuttering Foundation of America recommend waiting 2 seconds before answering your child. The idea is that not only will it create an environment for relaxed talking but children learn by imitation and may well adopt a slower rate which helps fluency.

# 3 Respond to the message not the speech
Think about the content of what your child is trying to tell you and don’t focus on how it sounds.  What’s more important? For you to really get what they’re trying to tell you so they feel understood? Or saying it according to expectations that it should be a particular way? This is important because showing your anxiety to your child isn’t helpful. After a lot of reflection, I realised that I was the only one who was anxious about my little girl’s speech. I realised also that I had anxiety that was just looking for a home and it happened to be her speech! Let them know by giving them your full attention (listening and looking at them) that you’re interested in what they are trying to tell you rather than whether their speech sounds smooth or bumpy.

#4 Ditch the questions
How was your day? What happened in school? What are you doing? Do you want to watch a movie? Questions are a pressure on speech; there’s an expectation of a response. And they’re not the best way to get a conversation going. So reduce your questions and use statements instead. When you do ask a question, wait for your child to answer before asking another one. I have two other posts with more tips on getting rid of questions here: http://talknua.com/killer-questions/ and here:  http://talknua.com/pop-the-question/

 #5 Don’t give them advice
It’s not helpful to tell your child to slow down, take their time, start again, take a deep breath and so on- the kinds of advice we might instinctively give.  Instead, focus on other general ways to create a calm environment like not rushing in general or putting time pressure on like Oh there’s the bell. We’re late. What ways can you think of that will help your child not tire themselves out and get more rest?

#6 Undivided attention
This means 5 minutes undivided attention where there’s no rush. This isn’t time reading a book or playing a lively outdoor game. You let the child choose the activity and you play with them for 5 minutes giving your undivided attention focusing on what your child is saying rather than how he says it.

#7 Don’t finish their word or sentence for them

Your child is most likely not aware that their speech sounds different and you want to keep it that way at this stage. The British Stammering Association suggest that as long your child isn’t upset by the struggle, it’s better to leave them finish what they’re saying in their own good time. Keep normal eye contact so don’t look away. Accept your child’s speech without commenting but do keep an eye out for any signs of anxiety about speech.

#8 Keep it simple

We talk a lot in our house and once I paid attention to how I was communicating with my little girl, I realised that I was using very complicated language. Long sentences.  I’d fallen into the habit of expanding everything she said to make it even more complex! I had to work at actually saying less and keeping my own contributions short and simple. So no long and complicated sentences.

#9 Take turns

Make sure everyone gets a turn to speak and try to minimize interruptions. This isn’t easy! But everyone talking at once is another pressure on speech. I have a blog post about how to work on turn taking here: http://talknua.com/eliminatethecompetition/

#10 Let them know you love them just the way they are

When I was worried that my little girl’s speech, I found myself thinking about the future and what would I want for her if she did have a stutter? The conclusion I came to was that I wanted her to love herself the way she was and the only way I could think of doing that was by loving her the way she was. I never commented on her speech or drew her attention to it because I knew that was actually my problem and not hers. I didn’t want to infect her with my anxiety so I talked to a trusted colleague who specialises in working with children who stutter and that really helped too.

One of my favourite books about this is Ann Irwin’s Stammering in Young Children: A Practical Self-Help Programme for Parents– you can get it on Amazon.

If you’re worried that your child is stuttering, it’s best to contact your local services and talk to a speech and language pathologist and ideally one who has experience of working with young children who stutter. There are other treatment options for pre-schoolers that involve working directly on their speech. So far. one approach has not been identified as being superior to another approach. Each child and family’s situation is unique so this is something to discuss with your local speech and language pathologist.

 If you like this post, please pass it on to your friends.

Did this happen to your child? What worked for you? Be sure and leave a comment below.

Here’s what I read for this post?

Yairi, E. & Ambrose, N. (2013) Epidemiology of stuttering: 21st century advances. Journal of Fluency Disorders 38(2): 66-87.

The American Speech-Language & Hearing Association http://www.asha.org/Practice-Portal/Clinical-Topics/Childhood-Fluency-Disorders/ 

The Stuttering Foundation http://www.stutteringhelp.org/

Ann Irwin’s Stammering in Young Children: A Practical Self-Help Programme for Parents.

Let’s get talking!


March 16, 2017
by Mary Pat

What you need to know about speech development when your child speaks more than one language

So my last post was all about speech development and delay in general. How to know if your child might have one and what to do about it. You can read that post here: http://talknua.com/would-you-know-if-your-child-had-a-speech-problem/


This week’s post is about children who speak more than one language and speech development. Oh my God, reading the research nearly wrecked my head! One word comes to mind: complex….actually other ones came to mind too when I was wading through the studies- most of the words too rude to put here!


So what’s the story then? Well, the research has tended to compare multilingual children with children who speak one language. Which is like comparing apples and oranges instead of comparing apples with apples. Not particularly meaningful. But that’s what’s out there.  What did they find? I’ve done my best to keep it simple but all the same, fasten your seatbelts!


Some studies found that in comparison to children who speak one language, multilingual children have speech sound skills that are more advanced. They call this positive transfer. But wait for it…they also have speech sound skills that are less advanced. They call that negative transfer.


What else? This stuff is SO confusing to read.  It’s a bit like the story of the blind men and the elephant. But here are 6 definites.

 7 truths about speech development & speaking more than one language

 #1 speech development is complex whether you speak 1 language or 4. It starts while your baby is still inside you; hearing the intonation patterns of the languages around them- I love that! And there are lots of ingredients that go into learning to speak. More of that later.


#2 Where children are acquiring multiple languages (which is actually the global norm) the languages interact with each other which leads to variation in their speech development and makes it hard to have definite facts.


#3 These interactions mean that there can be positive and negative transfer across languages.

There are numerous studies that show positive transfer. In one study of Maltese and English speaking children (aged 2-6), the bilingual children had more consonant accuracy, speech was more consistent, and they had fewer speech errors than monolingual children. This is positive transfer. Negative transfer then is where the multilingual child makes more errors and more uncommon errors (when compared to children who speak one language).  And there are lots of studies showing this too! One study involving Cantonese-English speaking bilingual children ages 26-67 months found that the bilingual children did not have as wide a range of speech sounds as the monolingual children.


#4 So what’s the bottom line? Multilingual children seem to have overall speech development that is similar but not identical to monolingual children.


#5 Over the long term, when children have lots of quality opportunities to hear and use all of their languages, their speech sound development will match monolingual peers. 


#6 There are clear differences between languages when it comes to their influence on speech sound development. What makes things more complex is that the options for the combinations of languages in families is huge given the potential number of languages in the world and the potential family make-ups. Variety is the order of the day which makes generalisations hard to make from the research. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because it means that the individuality of each child’s family structure and language patterns must be taken into account.


#7 Speech sound skills are not the same in each language. They tend to be spread differently across the languages. This is because the rules of languages are different. What does that mean? Well in Italian, words with many syllables are common. They’re less common in English. Consonants at the ends of words are more common in English. Not so common in Italian. I once assessed a little boy who spoke Italian and English and words like helicopter, crocodile, hippopotamus were much better in his English pronunciation than I would have expected for his age thanks to the Italian influence.


I also read a paper that reviewed 66 studies carried out over the last 50 years. Basically, what they say is that there is limited evidence to suggest that bilingual children develop speech at a slower or faster rate than monolingual children. There was evidence for more variation in the speech production of the bilingual children. Nearly all studies show evidence of transfer but the amount varies. It’s accepted that there are 2 systems interacting when the child is acquiring 2 languages. 


How does speech development happen? There are 3 processes involved with different skills needed for each stage.

 3 Processes of speech development: Input-Storage-Output

For input, your child has to be able to hear a sound and recognise that it is a speech sound in your language as opposed to an environmental sound like the tap dripping.


Then they have to store the sounds in the right order. And they have to store the meaning that goes with that sequence of sounds. And they also store what kind of word it is; noun, verb etc.  When they are older they’ll add the spelling.


Think about a new word you learned recently. Our favourite one for teaching the SLT students is cryptosporidium– a nasty little parasite in Galway water that gave us the runs. When it was on the news first, I couldn’t say it because I hadn’t stored the sound sequence. I knew the meaning but not the sounds. It takes practice to set down the right sequence and then I could say it no problem. And later I could spell it. That’s how word learning goes.


Output or production means their brains have to plan & execute the saying of the word accurately. They are little geniuses when you think about what has to happen for speech to develop!


Each of these skills is important for acquiring a competent speech sound system. This all takes from birth up to about age 6 +. After age 6 there are still some things to refine like intonation and stress in words like photography and for English speakers, the /r/ sound.


So what does all this mean for you and your child?

 #1 Speaking more than one language does not cause speech problems. This is universally agreed upon in the research and by professional bodies like the American Speech-language & Hearing Association (ASHA), the Royal college of Speech & Language Therapists (RCSLT) etc. (This doesn’t mean you won’t be told to drop a language. If you are told to drop a language, ignore them and read this instead: http://talknua.com/what-to-say-when-the-doctor-gets-it-wrong/


#2 There is greater variation in the speech development of children who are learning more than one language. This can make the precise identification of a problem a little harder to work out. What you can do about that is when you go to see a speech and language pathologist, have a clear description of:

  • the languages that your child is exposed to,
  • the amount of time (roughly) that they are exposed to each
  • the ages they were when they began to be exposed to the different languages.


# 3 It’s reasonable to allow a greater range of normal variation in the bilingual children and allow more time for speech milestones to be reached. For any child, when you look at ages at which they should be doing things, it’s always important to remember that these are rough guidelines and not written in stone. At the same time though, you should see your child making progress i.e. speech gradually getting clearer. It’s important to identify children with speech sound disorders sooner rather than later.

If you do go to see a speech and language pathologist, here are 2 things to bring along with you to your visit:

#1 This form which comes in lots of different languages. It’s a report of how easy or hard it is to understand your child. And it’s a great starting point for exploring potential speech problems.



#2 This speech checker is for English but it will allow you to get a sense of what sounds your child is using at the start, in the middle, and at the end of words. http://www.speechchecker.com/


#3 If you do the speech checker for English, listen to your child speaking the other languages and make a note of what speech sounds you’re hearing. And write down examples of some words and how your child is saying them, especially if they are not saying them ‘correctly’ by adult standards. It doesn’t have to be precise, just a 1st attempt at mapping out their speech sounds.

If you like this post, please share it with your friends.  Be sure to leave a comment below about your child’s speech development.

Where is all this from? Here’s what I read:

Cruz-Ferreira, M. (2012). Sociolinguistic and cultural considerations when working with multilingual children. In McLeod, S. & Goldstein, B. (eds.) Multilingual Aspects of Speech Sound Disorders in Children.


Hambly, H., Wren, Y., McLeod, S. & Roulstone, S. (2013) The influence of bilingualism on speech production: A systematic review. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 48(1), 1-24.


Goldstein, B. & McLeod, S.  (2012). Typical and atypical multilingual speech acquisition. In McLeod, S. & Goldstein, B. (eds.) Multilingual Aspects of Speech Sound Disorders in Children.


Gildersleeve-Neumann, C. and Wright K. (2010). English speech acquisition in 3- 5 year old Russian children learning English. Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools 41, 429-444.

Let’s get talking!



March 2, 2017
by Mary Pat

Would you know if your child had a speech problem?

Are you worried about your child’s speech development? If so, then this post is for you. You’ll find the latest research and 5 things to do if you think your child has a speech delay.

Speech is the pronunciation of their words. If they say tat when they mean cat or Sue when they mean shoe. When children start saying their first words and putting words together, they don’t sound like adults. There’s a process of development that they have to go through to get to adult speech. While their speech is developing, they’ll do things like leave off the last sound in the word so boat becomes bo. They’ll leave out sounds in words like spoon and say boon instead. I’m not talking about stuttering. I’ll cover that in a later post so be sure to sign up to get that in your inbox.

It’s also normal to not understand everything your child says to you.  How much should you be able to understand?

Here are the numbers:

At 18 months, you can expect to understand about 25% of what they say.

At 24 months, it’s between 25% & 50%

And by 36 months it’s between 75% and 100%

This is only a rough guide so don’t panic if this doesn’t fit for you.

The percentages are slightly different for when your child is talking with people who don’t know them very well.

So for unfamiliar listeners, here’s how it goes:

By 3 years, unfamiliar people should be able to understand about 50% of what your child says.

And by 4 years, even though your child may not yet have totally adult speech, most of what they say should be understandable. If it’s less than 2/3rds of what they say at this age, they need to see a speech and language therapist.

So how do you know if your child has a speech problem?

The American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) have a useful guide about the signs of speech problems in your child. Here’s what they say are signs of speech problems:
• If at 12-24 months, you child says the sounds puh, buh, muh, huh, and wuh incorrectly in words.

•If at 24-36 months, they say the sounds kuh, guh, fuh, tuh, duh, and nuh incorrectly in words.

• If between the ages of 24 to 36 months, they produce speech that is unclear, even to familiar people.

However, it’s important to remember that children vary quite a lot in their speech development.


What puts your child at risk for having a speech problem?

Sharynne McLeod and Elise Baker review the research on the risks in their book Children’s Speech. Now, although your child may tick several of the risk boxes, that doesn’t mean that they’ll have a speech sound problem. Some children who are mispronouncing words will grow out of it but at least half will need speech and language therapy.

There are lots of conflicting findings and gaps in the research but clear risk factors for speech sound disorders are being a boy, having on-going hearing problems, and having a family history of speech and language problems.

Here are 8 Red Flags for Speech Problems from Caroline Bowen’s book.

1. Not babbling or being late to babble. Babies generally produce strings of consonants and vowels at about 7 months or so. It sounds close to real words. And before 12 months, they should be babbling at least some of the time. You can listen to the different kinds of babble here: www.vocaldevelopment.com

2. Glue ear (posh name: otitis media with effusion) between 12 & 18 months is associated with speech delay.

3. Leaving out the first consonant in words isn’t typical if your child’s 1st language is English. So saying up when they mean cup. 

4. If your child has few consonants and/or vowels.

5. If they have problems with vowels after age 35 months or so. Many typically developing children under age 35 months make mistakes with vowels.

6. If they continue to leave out the last sound in a word at age 3 years. Typically, this goes away between 2 years 10 months to 3 years 3 months. If it persists, it might be sign of a speech problem.

7. Persistent, mild speech difficulties after age 6 years and 9 months of age are associated with difficulties learning to read and write.

8. If your child has an intellectual/learning disability, they’re more likely to have speech sound errors.

What can you do? Here are 5 Tips for Helping Your Child’s Speech

1. Trust your instinct and if you’re concerned then contact your local services. Children speech sound disorders make up a high proportion of the children on speech and language pathologists’ caseloads. Speech sound problems are common with studies indicating a range of 1.06% to 20.5% of children having a speech sound problem.

2. Be a good model of speech for your child. This means talking aloud about what you’re doing as you’re doing it. Describing what your child is doing. Using a slow rate of speech yourself. Turning off any distracting background noises like the TV when you’re having a conversation with your child. You can find more ideas here in this quick video on Talk Nua’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5e5ShcL4YnQ

3. Don’t correct their pronunciation. Young children often think that you have the listening problem so correcting them won’t make sense to them. Correcting them may only frustrate them or cause unnecessary awareness. Just repeat the word correctly after them once. No need to emphasise the pronunciation because this distorts the word. You can find more ideas here in this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptEATK9XIg4 

4. You could write down the words they say and how they say them and bring this along to your appointment. Or give it to their teachers or child minders if they’re having trouble being understood there.

5. Fill out this form http://www.csu.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/399970/ICS-English.pdf

It’s a measure of how your child’s speech is understood by a range of people like parents, immediate family, extended family, friends, acquaintances, teachers, and strangers. And bring it along to your appointment too. It’s a good idea for both parents to fill it out and your child’s teacher too as people can have different perceptions.

So this post is all about speech development where the family speak one language. But what about families where two or more languages are spoken? Be sure and sign up to get my next post about speech development in multilingual children.

If you like this post, please pass it on to your friends.

Let’s get talking!


American Speech-Language Hearing Association http://identifythesigns.org/

Bowen, C. (2011). Table 1: Intelligibility. Retrieved from http://www.speech-language-therapy.com/ on [24/01/2017].
Bowen, C. (2015) Children’s Speech Sound Disorders. (2nd edition). London: Wiley.

McLeod, S. & Baker, E. (2017) Children’s Speech: An evidence based approach to assessment and intervention. London: Pearson

McLeod, S., Harrison, L.J., & McCormack, J. (2012) Intelligibility in Context Scale. Bathurst, NSW, Australia: Charles Sturt University. http://www.csu.edu.au/research/multilingual-speech/ics

Pascoe M. (2005) Speech Intelligibility: how to evaluate and provide treatment. CASANA: The Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association of North America. http://www.apraxia-kids.org/library/speech-intelligibility/

February 10, 2017
by Mary Pat

Is it selective mutism? Or the silent period?

So this week’s post is about selective mutism and what’s called the silent period in bilingual children.

Kate got in touch about her little girl who is 4 years old. She has an older sister who is 6 years old. Their parents are native English speakers living in Germany. Both girls have attended kindergarten since they were 2 years old so they are sequential bilinguals; acquiring one language at home until they enter education where they acquire a second language. Abby, the youngest suddenly stopped talking in kindergarten a few months ago. She’ll happily speak German with her sister at home but not in the kindergarten. She talks happily at home with visitors. She communicates non-verbally in the kindergarten and is happy to go there every day. Her parents and the pediatrician are not too concerned but the staff at the kindergarten are very concerned. Kate wonders is selective mutism a possibility? Another possibility is what’s called ‘the silent period’.

The name ‘silent period’ of language development doesn’t mean that the child doesn’t talk at all. It means that they aren’t speaking in the 2nd language. According to the American Speech & Hearing Association (ASHA), when children first encounter the second language (for example in pre-school), they often focus on taking it all in; they devote time to listening and developing their understanding. This may be the first time they realise that their home language is not understood & that their 2nd language skills aren’t quite enough to communicate effectively. In terms of a time frame, ASHA talk about a few weeks or months for older children and for pre-schoolers, a year or more.

As they move through the silent period children may start to repeat words that they hear around them. For example, they might repeat phrases that they have memorised. Examples in English would be things like ‘What’s this?’ ‘Look at me!’ Then they may quietly start to produce new words and phrases before starting to speak publicly. The Hanen Centre say that children may use a kind of ‘formula’ first where they use a phrase that they have learned (like ‘I want’) and then they insert their own word at the end of the phrase. Gradually they become more and more fluent while still making some grammatical mistakes as they are missing some grammatical rules. So a child might say ‘I no want that’. Some of the mistakes at this point are just the influence of the first language. And then others are the same kinds of mistakes that monolingual children make as they acquire their language.

It’s hard to find recent information about selective mutism and as always, there’s variation in what you read. Here’s a summary of what I found in the research:

On one hand selective mutism is considered to be rare in some descriptions (about 1% of children who attend mental health services according to the DSM V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders used by health professionals)). Or not as rare as once thought (7 in every 1000 children according to the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry). It’s described as a failure of the child to speak in at least one setting, while speaking normally in others and it’s considered to be an anxiety disorder. According to ASHA other symptoms include:
• not speaking interferes with school or work, or with social communication
• lasts at least 1 month (not limited to the first month of school).
• failure to speak is not due to a lack of knowledge of, or comfort, with the spoken language
required in the social situation
• not due to a communication disorder (e.g., stuttering)

So Abby would not meet these criteria, suggesting it’s more likely to be the silent period.

About 1/3 of children affected by selective mutism are bilingual according to a recent feature in ASHA (See the link below). The reasons children who are immersed in a new language environment are at greater risk for selective mutism are that they may have increased anxiety due to being in a foreign social and language environment. They may become socially isolated at school if they don’t speak the language. Children who are naturally inhibited or anxious may get stuck in the silent period as being silent becomes a habit that‘s hard to break.

It can be hard to distinguish between the silent period and selective mutism but the ASHA article I mentioned suggests it’s selective mutism when the child
• remains silent even after a protracted period of second language acquisition
• is silent at school in their native language as well as in the language of the school
• appears shy, overly anxious, or inhibited.

In terms of preventing problems in second language learners, here are 9 tips for teachers:

1. Find a speech buddy who speaks the same native/home language as the child and with whom the child
can communicate at school
2. Take the pressure off by keeping your own language simple
3. Be okay with the child responding in their home language
4. Make the environment warm, welcoming, nurturing, and supportive for the child
5. Allow the child to work 1:1 or in small groups to decrease communication anxiety
6. Don’t remand or require speech
7. Create early, meaningful opportunities for simple language expression. For example, teach just
one or two key words or phrases that the child can use early in the language-learning process,
and reward the child when they are used in a communicative context. The word “more,” for example,
can be used extensively during snack time to get more food or drink
8. Continue to build the child’s understanding of the school language to foster greater confidence
in using it.

If you like this post, please pass it on to your friends.

Would you like your own question answered here? If so, just email me at marypat@talknua.com

Let’s get talking!

Inspired by:


February 9, 2017
by Mary Pat

Get your child to behave better…now and forever

So it’s been one of those days where your proactive parenting has gone out the window. (What’s proactive parenting you ask? Read all about it here http://talknua.com/three-questions-to-ask-yourself-when-your-child-misbehaves/) But, you have remembered to connect with your child and validate their feelings after they have:

• Kissed your freshly-painted, white wall with mummy’s red lipstick (happened in our house!)

• Said very mean things out loud about another child in public (that’s us too…)

• Grabbed a toy off a much younger child and refused outright to share (you got it- us too….)

(Can’t remember that connect bit? Read it here http://talknua.com/the-first-step-towards-better-behaviour/) So what do you do next? The No Drama Discipline people call this next part 1-2-3 Discipline.

1 definition: Remember that discipline is about teaching. Not punishment.  For example, when my daughter pushed me over in fury about not going on a walk with me, I waited until later to have the conversation with her about it. After I had connected with her, acknowledged her feelings and she was calm. Then at bed time, I asked her ‘How d’you think it made me feel when you pushed me over?’ I could see her little conscience kicking in and a guilty look on her face. ‘Yay’, I thought- that’s exactly what I want to see. Guilt can be good! Natural guilt from thinking about what you did & how it made someone else feel.

2 principles: Wait until your child is ready & Be consistent but not rigid.

Let’s find out what these are. #1 Wait until your child is ready So when your child misbehaves, their upstairs, logical brain is temporarily unavailable. Lecturing won’t work! We have to wait until they have calmed down. And this might mean waiting until tomorrow.

Ask yourself ‘Is she ready to listen now?‘ If not, wait.

Say ‘I’d like to wait until we’re really able to talk and listen to each other. We’ll come back and talk about it in a while.

Or you can say ‘I’m too angry to have a helpful conversation about it now. I’m going to take some time to calm down. And then we’ll talk later’.

You can start the conversation by saying: ‘I’d like to talk about what happened yesterday at the library. That didn’t go so well did it?’

#2 Be consistent but not rigid.

This means having some definite non-negotiables like physical safety. Like your toddler isn’t allowed to run around alone in a busy car park. Or your school aged child isn’t allowed to swim without adult supervision. And then there can be some exceptions. They give the example of having a rule of no devices at dinner. But if you’re having dinner with another couple, you might decide to let your child play games quietly on your phone so you’ve a chance to talk. The idea is that you’re consistent but flexible when circumstances change.

Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson who wrote No Drama Discipline say to use do-overs. Let’s say your child says something disrespectful to you. You can teach them how to speak respectfully by saying ‘I bet if you tried again, you could come up with nicer way to say that’. They need practice to get it right; not punishment or a lecture.

3 desired outcomes

#1 Insight

When you connect and try to work out what’s going on for your child; you get insight into their inner world. And they develop insight into how what they do affects you and other people. Eventually this insight will help them control themselves better; their words and their actions. You can say things like

  • When she took away the doll, it looked like you felt really mad. Is that right?
  • I was watching before you lost it with your brother. It looked like you were getting more and more annoyed when he was at you. Is that what you were feeling?

#2 Empathy

Developing awareness of other people’s feelings. Seeing things from another people’s point of view. Thinking about how what they did made someone else feel. You can do this about real incidents but reading together and watching cartoons together gives great chances for chats about feelings. Asking questions like:

  • See she’s crying? Can you imagine how she might be feeling?
  • Did you see his face when you yelled at him? That must have been hard for him especially when he likes you so much.

In the book, the focus is on behaviour that upsets others, but you can do this for positive things too. Like I saw how delighted Katie looked when you gave her a big hello.

# 3 Making things better

Asking questions like: What can you do to make it better? What do you think needs to happen now? Saying sorry isn’t always easy! They say that sometimes it’s okay if you actually deliver the apology for your child. The two of you can agree on the wording beforehand. That’s better than a fake apology any day!

So that’s the No Drama Discipline way. The short version is:

  • Be proactive and spot trouble before it begins.
  • Connect before you direct. Our job is to make them feel safe and secure; that we are there to guide them through the hard stuff
  • Acknowledge what your child is feeling
  • Get below their eye levle to be less threatening
  • Wait until you’re both ready to have a useful conversation
  • Give them chances to practice saying things nicer and make things better.

If you like this post, please share it with your friends!

Let’s get talking,