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How to Help Children With Expressive Language Delay

by Michele Norfleet, studioD

A typical 5-year-old uses a variety of sentence structures, asks questions, makes up stories and talks enthusiastically about what he sees and does. If your child’s expressive language is lagging behind his peers, he may eventually catch up. However, some children need additional intervention to get on the right track. Language skills are essential to academic success, so provide a language-rich environment that will encourage your child’s expressive language development.

Talk About It

Talk to your child about everything you do, whether driving in the car, shopping or going on a family outing. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) recommends exposure to language and vocabulary from an early age to develop both receptive and expressive language.

Make picture books about a family outing or vacation. Encourage your child to write a sentence for each picture. For children without written language skills, write a sentence or word that they tell you. Use the photos as prompts for a conversation.

Listen to what your child has to say. When children believe that their language attempts are acknowledged and appreciated, it encourages further attempts.

Tell stories to help your child develop an understanding of sequence. Pause in your storytelling, giving him the opportunity to make comments. The modeling of storytelling encourages him to attempt stories of his own.

Expand on his communication attempts by making comments and asking questions. Ask questions that require more than a yes-no response to encourage conversation.

Provide a good communication model for your child. Use correct grammar when you talk. Accept his communication without correcting his errors so he does not become discouraged in his attempts.

Read, Read, Read

Read books that provide your child with good grammatical sentences and new vocabulary to develop expressive language skills. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends daily reading beginning at 6 months of age for the development of language and literacy.

Talk about the plot as you read. Wonder aloud, ”I wonder why he did that?" or “That doesn’t make sense to me." Wait for his response or add your own response to demonstrate appropriate comments and the give-and-take of conversation.

Stop throughout the story and ask questions. “What do you think will happen now?” to give him the opportunity to express his ideas.

Look at illustrations on a page before you read to encourage your child to make predictions. After reading a page, talk about the illustrations to relate them to the text.


Talk about activities or games as you play with your child. Playing one-on-one gives him the freedom to talk about an activity without having to compete with more verbal siblings.

Play word games such as I Spy or Twenty Questions that require your child to assimilate information to make reasonable guesses. Take time to help him see relationships between clues and the answers he gives. For example, point out that if the object is red, round and you eat it, then the options are an apple, a tomato or a cherry.

Provide good language role models for him by arranging play activities with children who have good speech and language skills.

Items you will need
  •  Pictures of family, friends and activities
  •  Books - at and above his reading level


  • Consult a Speech Language Pathologist for an evaluation if your child's language skills do not improve or if he demonstrates other delays in development.

About the Author

Michele Norfleet is a freelance writer who writes on travel, home and garden and education topics. She has coauthored a handbook for teachers on school-wide discipline and has contributed tips for special-needs students in the basal curriculum for RCL Benziger. Norfleet holds a master's degree from Southern Illinois University and has experience as a special-needs teacher and speech pathologist.

Photo Credits

  • Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Getty Images