Self Talk vs. Parallel Talk

by | Sep 13, 2023 | News

Communication is an essential skill children develop from an early age. When immersed in a language-rich environment, infants quickly grasp the meanings of words and even experiment with grammar mechanics. As role models and the dominant presence in children’s lives, caregivers play a critical role in helping their little ones practice language skills. Self talk and parallel talk are two relatively simple ways caregivers can support speech development.

What Is Self Talk?

You may have heard this term before, perhaps in a therapy setting. For example, you may have learned to talk to yourself in a positive way to combat feelings of insecurity and anxiety. Called private speech, this version of speaking to yourself is valid, and children talk to themselves just like adults do.

However, the term has a different meaning in the context of speech development. When encouraging language practice in small children, this kind of talk means narrating your actions:

  • I put the toys away.
  • Up the stairs, we go!
  • It’s time for bed.

What Is Parallel Talk?

While self talk focuses on the speaker, parallel talk focuses on the child’s actions. Narrating children’s play can be especially useful, as it engages little ones on subjects they’ve already expressed interest in. You can also practice parallel talk during joint activities:

  • Dinner time
  • Neighborhood walks
  • Getting dressed

Engaging the senses is another excellent technique to use with parallel talk, as it helps children make a connection between their sensory experiences and language describing those experiences.

How Do These Techniques Influence Language Development?

You’ve probably heard the saying that young children are “like sponges” because they absorb information from their environment. In the case of language, that comparison is absolutely accurate. Evolution has wired the human brain for speech from birth. Five-day-old infants can distinguish the difference between their parents’ native language and a foreign language just by the “melody.”

These amazing abilities continue throughout toddlerhood. Self talk and parallel talk provide child-friendly examples for your little one to absorb, helping them develop the neural pathways that allow fluent speech.

You may also notice your children modeling these types of speech, especially private speech. This modeling is simultaneously language skills practice and a learning process, as preschoolers use private speech to remember instructions, describe their environment and reason through decisions.

How Can You Incorporate Them Into Your Daily Routine?

Incorporating these language techniques into your daily routine is essential, but that doesn’t mean you need to talk non-stop. In fact, it’s best to avoid doing so, as it may cause your children to tune you out.

Instead, let moments arise organically as you and your children complete everyday activities. While your little ones may repeat your words, don’t push them to do so — they’re absorbing your examples, even if they don’t produce their own right now.

Who Can Assist With Self Talk and Speech Development?

Sometimes, children fall behind in speech development, even when caregivers use self talk. When this happens, a speech and language pathologist can help identify the cause of the delays and work with the child in tailored therapy sessions.

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