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Look Up! Combating Language Delays One Day at a Time

Look Up! Combating Language Delays One Day at a Time
By Whitney Crum

The holidays have come and gone and the new gadgets and electronics have found their place in everyday life. Almost everything around us involves digital-based and virtual platforms instead of real-life, three-dimensional objects. So why should a child’s screen time be limited when the rest of society is immersed in the digital world?

The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages any type of screen media in children younger than 18-24 months, with the exception of video chatting, due to the increasing prevalence of language delays in this population. According to research presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting, researchers found that the more handheld screen time a child’s parent reported, the more likely the child was to have expressive speech delays. The first years are vital for language development; the brain requires direct interaction with people, manipulation of toys and objects, and real-life routines to create communication pathways. These experiences also aid in the development of social skills, problem solving techniques, and metalinguistic abilities.

What is Considered Screen Time?

Screen time is anything your child is looking at with a screen. This includes television, phones, tablets, handheld gaming systems, etc. Even if the child is watching an educational program, it is still considered screen time. Communication requires a two-way street, something a digital device cannot provide (this excludes all persons who use an augmentative and alternative form of communication).

So, what does a typical day resemble with an infant or toddler? Running errands, household chores, and transportation between jobs and childcare can seem almost impossible to accomplish. As a busy parent, it is much easier to finish your to-do list when your little one is occupied. Therefore, how can we create these communication pathways and still complete that unending to-do list?

Combating Screen Time

Instead of children being passive participators, give them an active role in your everyday schedule. Here are some no-prep, in the moment language enrichment activities that will allow you to be productive in your day and develop your child’s language and cognitive skills.

The Grocery Store: Let them help you make the grocery list (targets abstract thinking and problem-solving skills), point out environmental print (labels on food, items, and departments in the store), talk about why you shop for certain items (targets problem solving, executive functioning), and during checkout you can talk about how you pay for items and take time to greet the cashier (sequencing, social skills, cause and effect).

Laundry: Try sorting colors (improves categorization and labeling skills), putting clothes in washer and then dryer (gives understanding of first/then sequencing and improves joint attention skills), folding and sorting clothes (initiates sustained attention, categorization, executive functioning).

Running Errands: Day-to-day life also requires transitions between settings, people, and activities at a fast pace. However, if attending to a device, transitions could be missed. When running errands, target greetings with new people, talk about where you are going and why you need to go to the bank or post office (you go to the bank for finances and post office to drop off and pick up mail – this targets sequencing, triggers WH-questions, and establishes social language skills).

Daily Routines: Getting dressed (talk about the kind of clothes needed if it is cold), packing a lunch, going to school/daycare (ask questions about their friends and teachers, things they are looking forward to at school). These activities promote social language, sequencing, logical thinking, and executive functioning skills.

Restaurants and Family dinners: Encourage the children to be a part of conversation, let them observe a basic skill in conversation – turn-taking! Looking at menu pictures (helpful for recognizing environmental print), and placing orders.

You don’t have to go cold turkey on screen time. Start with one task a day and work your way to a healthy media regime. You may experience resistance behaviors, but keep in mind that you are facilitating new experiences that ultimately improve their language and cognitive abilities!


Whitney Crum from Laskin Therapy Group is originally from Southaven, MS. She received her bachelor’s degree from Delta State University in 2015 and her master’s degree from Jackson State University in 2018.

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