Top 3 strategies to help your child speak in phrases


Help my child speak

You might think that helping your child speak in phrases will be difficult and require lots of your time, but it doesn’t have to! Spending 5-10 minutes of quality time with your child a few times a week is enough while embedding strategies into your everyday routine.

Here are my top 3 strategies to help your child speak in phrases – incorporate these in toy play and everyday routine!

Check out the 30-second video of me using these strategies with Mckenzie and Mr Potato Head – click here

1) Let your child lead by waiting

This is important when you have a dedicated 5-10 minutes with your child. I can guarantee that if you lead the play, and tell your child ‘what to do’ they will get grumpy, lose interest and probably walk away. So I highly recommend you wait and see what they gravitate towards, see HOW they want to play, then join in. Rinse and repeat this every 1-2 minutes, to ensure you’re following their lead throughout.
This doesn’t mean you can’t ‘sabotage’ the situation in some way so they’re more likely to focus on the task at hand (e.g. hide away all other toys, remove distractions, give pieces bit-by-bit etc). It just means to allow your child to lead in the moment so they’re more readily engaged to learn and interact with you.

2) Recasting

Acknowledge what your child has said or gestured by recasting back their message in a form of a comment. For example, if your child gives you an item that they cannot open, or they say ‘help’. Recast back to them by saying, “oh you want help”. This will help your child speak using more specific words.

3) Expanding

Expanding is one of the most important strategies to help your child speak in phrases. When they say a single word, you can expand it to a two-word phrase. When your child says a two-word phrase, you can expand it to a 3-word phrase.

For example:
[child] “green” > [adult] “green hat”
[child] “help” > [adult] “help mum”
[child] “little hat” > [adult] “A little green hat”
[child] “turn it” > [adult] “turn it around”

Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect. If you model and expand to a 3-4 word sentence occasionally, that is ok. You will find that you say many filler words (e.g. the, it, is, a), but these don’t really count as a keyword, so go right ahead and include them! Modelling grammatically correct sentences to help your child speak in phrases is the way to go….leading me to mention…..

Telegraphic speech:

Telegraphic speech is defined as when an adult simplifies their utterances (sentences) by removing grammatical markers and bound grammatical units (e.g. ‘s, is, ing). For example, instead of saying “where is teddy?”, an adult says “where teddy”.

In the nineties, many treatment programs included telegraphic speech based on the notion that it would remove distractible components of adult’s utterances, supposedly making it easier for a child to learn language. However, to this date, the evidence that telegraphic speech enhances a child’s language development is weak and mainly invalid.

In fact, it has been argued in the research that children with language delay NEED to hear grammatical markers and units more often.

So what’s the verdict about telegraphic speech?

For children learning their first words or beginning to combine words, I suggest using correct grammatical phrases and sentences as much as possible.

Of course, there are ways to ‘simplify your language, especially for those at the pre-linguistic to 2-word phrase level. For example, it’s ok to say “red car/car go/blow bubbles/ball in” when you’re teaching your child to combine words.

However, don’t say sentences such as “where mummy/give daddy/it red”, as these phrases are grammatically incorrect as the markers “s, to, is” have been removed.
When your child learns to speak in phrases, they will most likely use telegraphic speech by omitting these grammatical markers. So it will not help your child learn the proper grammatical structure of sentences if you are also using telegraphic speech. Model the well-formed grammatical phrases so your child learns to speak correctly.

Verdict – when helping your child speak, always focus on using simplified but well-formed grammatical phrases and sentences as much as possible!

Want to know how to help your child speak in phrases?

Make sure to download the Speechie Parent Playbook – Phrase builder here

Help your child talk home program

Find more about the Speech Parent Playbooks here


Bedore, L. M., & Leonard, L. B. (2001). Grammatical morphology deficits in Spanish-speaking children with specific language impairment. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 44(4), 905-924.

Fey, M.E., Cleave, P. L., Long, S.H., & Hughes, D.L. (1993). Two approaches to the facilitation of grammar in children with language impairment: An experimental evaluation. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 36, 141-157

Fey, M. E., Long, S. H., & Finestack, L. H. (2003). Ten principles of grammar facilitation for children with specific language impairments. American Journal of Speech Language Pathology, 12(1), 3-15.

Fey, M. E. (2008). The (mis-)use of telegraphic input in child language intervention. Revista de Logopedia, Foniatria y Audiologia, 28(4), 218-230.


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