Unplug your kids and get talking!

 Today’s children have access to a seemingly endless supply of communication gadgets – computers, tablets, video games, smart phones and interactive toys.  Despite the increasing availability of these communication tools, children’s communication skills are on the decline.

May is Speech and Hearing Month and Interior Health wants to remind everyone about the important role speech, language, and hearing play in a child’s early development.  Hearing, speech and language all play crucial roles in children’s social and emotional development, as well as their ability to learn.  Toddlers and preschoolers with speech or language problems often have difficulty playing with others and managing their own emotions.  They are vulnerable to mental health disorders when they get older, and are at a greater risk for school drop-out as teens.

Recent statistics from the University of British Columbia’s Human Early Learning Partnership show that fewer B.C. children are reaching kindergarten with appropriate social competence and emotional maturity when compared to children ten years ago.

“The first few years of a child’s life are a critical time, long before they begin school,” Kingsley Bower, Practice Consultant with Interior Health’s Speech and Language Program, said in a statement. “Children’s readiness for speech and language development is greatest between the ages of 12 months and four years. This is an important time to stimulate communication skills and to get help for any delays.”

When it comes to teaching language skills, face to face contact wins hands-down over expensive electronics and teaching tools.  Babies and young children respond best to live human voices.

“Children learn communication skills by listening to words and the tone of your voice, and also by watching the expressions on your face when you speak,” said Bower.  “Tablets and computers are amazing these days but machines don’t care about sharing, or hitting and screaming, so they don’t teach children how to keep friends.”

Parents should trust their instincts if they are concerned whether their child’s speech, language and hearing are developing well.  Signs of difficulty can be subtle but may include:

  • certain sounds that seem difficult for a child to hear (e.g. can hear the doorbell but not certain voices);
  • doesn’t notice when spoken to from behind;
  • speech that is hard to understand or inappropriate for the child’s age level;
  • very loud or soft speech;      
  • stuttering;
  • a child who is distracted, withdrawn or avoids social contact; and
  • a child who gets upset when trying to communicate. 

If you suspect a problem, Interior Health’s Registered Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists can help.  They specialize in working with children during the critical years from birth to five years.  Call your local health centre for an appointment. To find a health centre near you use our online search tool http://www.interiorhealth.ca/FindUs/_layouts/FindUs/By.aspx?type=Location.  Health centres are also listed under Health Authorities in the blue pages of your telephone directory.

For more information on speech, language and hearing please visit these websites:

Interior Health:  http://www.interiorhealth.ca/YourHealth/InfantsChildren/Pages/SpeechLanguage.aspx

HealthLink BC:  http://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthfiles/hfile71b.stm or