“Say Mama!” First Word Tips.
“Say Mama!” The anticipation of those first words to come is so exciting! But if it doesn’t happen right away, it can feel somewhat discouraging. Remember that child development is a range with each child being different from the other. Below are some tips and strategies you can try to get those first words coming along.
- Find what they’re interested in! Kids always learn the most when they are interested and engaged. Identify words they could say in these interesting routines. For example, if they love Bath Time, some target words could be: Wawa!, Bath, Splash, More, Wash, Bubble.
- Model, Model, Model. Say the word a bunch! Without the expectation of it being repeated for a while. A baby needs to hear a word about 1,000 times before they produce it (Wright).
- Use daily routines as opportunities to model the word. If you choose a word in a routine they are involved in every day (such as Mom or Dad returning home), then you will naturally have lots of chances to model the word (“Hi! It’s Mama! Mama is home!”).
- Pause with excited anticipation. If you’ve been modeling the word a bunch, you can next try pausing. For example, during bath time: “Yay! Let’s turn on the ____! (Wawa).”
- Label their gestures. If they point/grunt at an item, label it for them. “That’s a cup! You want your cup.”
- Use fun sounds in routines to promote verbal imitation. Some fun ones are: Eating sounds (Num Num Num), Water sounds (pshhhh), Stinky sounds (Ewwww!), Excitement sounds (Wowwww! Yayyy!), Dropping sounds (UH OH…), Sound effects (Boom!).
- Teach fun actions to promote imitation such as: waving Bye Bye, blowing hot food, peek a boo with hands over eyes, clapping for Yay!, shaking head for “No no no!,” or finger over mouth for “Shhh.”
- Use nursery rhymes. These encourage fun imitation in a variety of ways: hand motions, body movements, gestures, sounds and eventually words!
If the word you are working on is an item that you can hold, try holding it up next to your mouth when you model it so they can see how the word is created.
- Use a fun voice when modeling words. Kids usually enjoy a sing-song voice, where you voice goes Up then Down (i.e. “WA-wa”).
- Try modeling the word with a sign. If they let you, you could try to help them make the sign.
- Imitate THEM. When they make sounds, faces, gestures or do fun actions in play – Copy them! They may even copy you back right after.
If/When they do say those First Words!
Expect the first words to not be perfect. If you hear your child attempt a word, even if it isn’t perfect, that’s Ok. You can model it back correctly by saying ‘Yes a CAR! I see the CAR!’
If they say a word of an item they want, give them that item immediately! This will teach them the power of communication.
By one year of age, your child should be babbling, using some gestures to communicate, and producing at least 1-2 words (“Birth to One Year,” n.d.). If you have concerns for your child’s communication, talk to their Dr. and request an evaluation by a Speech Language Pathologist.
Wright, Judith. “Again! Again! Why your kid wants to do the same activity over and over.” Today’s Parent. By Cathie Kryczka. Updated March 2021.
“Birth to One Year.” ASHA, https://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/01. Accessed 21 August 2023.