Parallel talk is a technique that helps in the development of language in children. It involves speaking on behalf of the child. This gives the child words for what he is thinking. Hearing the words again and again will help the child understand what they mean and learn how to say them. Thus, the child can use them later to say things. Children with language disorder benefit greatly from parallel talk as it is a natural way of building on/ enhancing their communication skills.
Why it is important
A typically growing child hears language all the times. Parents, grandparents and neighbours- everybody interacts with the baby. When the baby smiles, coos and gurgles, much to the delight of everyone around him, people reciprocate by repeating the very things that elicit that initial smile or gurgle. These early interactions set the stage for communication.
A child with a language disorder is often unable to respond in the manner other would expect. Consequently, people in his environment may increasingly speak less to him. The absence of a language rich environment handicaps the child’s development the nature of the child’s own difficulties coupled with a less stimulating language environment makes language development difficult. This is where parallel talk becomes important as it is vital for the growing baby to hear language.
While using parallel talk, parents speak both for the child would have said (if he could) on behalf of the child.
For example, if a child says “car” the parent can say “look mama I see a car” this is a form of comment. And if a child say “papa” the mother says “where is papa? When will he come back?” This is a form of interrogation or questioning. Sometimes, children may appear to speak out of context. For instance, a child may say “train” when there is no train in sight. Using parallel talk, a parent can bring the child’s language into context. In the above situation, a parent could say “Mama, I want my train set, where is it?” or “mama, I liked doing the train puzzle yesterday.”
Scenarios for the use of parallel talk.
With a child who has language issues it is important to keep the language input going all the time. Wherever possible supplement speech with visual such as photographs, pictures from book and magazines.
Aunt/ uncle walk in and greet the child.
Aunt/ uncle: hello baby
Mother: (for the child) hello aunty/ uncle. How are you?
While the child is trying to get an item by snatching or grabbibg, talk for your child.
Mother: please give me the …………
I want the………….
Please remember not to force the child to talk by saying, “say, I want the…..!
- Talking about an object that the child is interested in (or catches his attention):
Child gets excited on seeing a red bus.
“Mama! Look, a red bus! It is going bur…. Bur…”
It’s a big red bus. We travelled in it yesterday”. Or “it’s the same bus we saw yesterday also.”
“Mama, I want to sit in the bus”
“We can ride on it soon”.
- REGARDING THE CHILD’S NEED/ WANTS
Child looking at or pointing to jug/ glass of water
“I am thirsty. Give me water.”
- EXPRESSING FEELINGS
Child tugs on dad’s pant as he heads towards the door.
“Papa please takes me to the office with you”.
“I cannot take you with me now but I will take you for a ride when I return.” Or “You know only papas go to office, how can you come now?”
“Please papa, I want to go with you.”
“Okay, I’ll take you for a quick ride around the building. Then you must say bye.”
- Specific Situations
During daily activities in and around the house, the parallel talk may be as follows-
- Bath time-
Child is being bathed by his/ her mother.
“Mama I do not want soap on my face”.
“Mama I like the cold water.”
“look at the bubbles flowing out”
- Meal time
While the child is being fed by the mother at the table. Child is looking with interest towards a food item kept on the table:
“I want the……
Hmmm Yummy, one more please!”
- Bus trip
When planning a bus trip. “Today we are going on the big red bus. We have to stand at the bus stop and wait for our bus to come. I know you find waiting difficult.”
“Mama, why do we have to stand here? I do not like waiting”.
“Remember, once you are on the bus it would be fun. We will try to sit near the window; you will feel the wind on your face.”
“Mama, I am so excited, I like the wind on my face.”
When on the bus, reinforce all that was described earlier. As the child is experiencing it.
While playing in the park with your child: Parent speaking for the child who is staring at/ dragging the parent to the swing: “Mama, I want to sit on the swing”.
“You sit on the swing every day. Let us start with the slide today”.
“No mamma, I want to sit on the swing first”. “Mama, why is somebody on the swing? I want to sit on it.” Parent could then explain to the child: “it’s that child’s turn: you can sit on it after she has finished”. “Mama, I want to sit on the swing.
Other ways in which Parallel talk can help
- Increasing awareness: Parallel talk can be useful not only in facilitating language development but in many other ways as well. In the initial stages of a child’s development, parallel talk will help the child to tune into his environment. Children with language disorders tune in better when they are addressed directly. When a parent speaks on the child’s behalf and responds as though the child was speaking, it results in a dialogue. Children gradually start tuning into this. Thereby their awareness of the world surrounding them improves. For example, in a classroom environment, the parent could talk about other children in the class and direct the child’s attention to another child saying, for example,” Look, Susheel is here. He is wearing shoes with lights on them.” The parent could then speak on the child’s behalf, saying,” “I want to play with him”, or “I am scared of him; he screams a lot”. The parent will thus say aloud whatever her child may be experiencing. It is possible that the parent may feel that in spite of talking for their child, their child is not interested in communication. When speaking on the child’s behalf, the parent could then say, “Mama, do not disturb me now, I am playing with the grille on the window”.
- Helping parents to tune in to their child: parents are likely to observe the child closely so as to be able to speak on his behalf. The child’s response to parallel talk will help a parent gauge whether the child has been understood properly. Changes in awareness, improvement in behaviour and changes in verbal output are all indications that a parent is connecting well. Once the child starts tuning in to the parallel talk around him, he may start anticipating it. Some parents have reported that on seeing something interesting, their child has turned around to see if the parent is going to talk about what they have seen. Sometimes the changes are not so immediate but a parent who has been patiently using parallel talk will definitely see positive changes.
- Reducing anxiety: parallel talk helps reduce a child’s anxiety. Children are often anxious about new surrounding s and meeting new people. The parent could then say. “I know you do not like it but it is important for us to attend this wedding. We will leave quickly. If it gets too much for you, papa will take you out for a walk.” Most often, parents make plans for their children. However they do not share this information with their child. Children’s anxieties can be largely reduced by involving them in the thought process. Parallel talk will thus address the child’s fears.
- Working on sensory issues: Talking to children about their sensory difficulties and issues related to these is always helpful. Parallel talk could be used to address a child’s difficulty with messy materials. The parent could say, “I don’t like to mess with paints. I don’t want to go to school today. I don’t want to paint.” And then address the child’s anxiety, by saying: “I know you do not like it. Just dip one finger in the paint. That will make me happy.” If the parent feels that the child is not convinced she could continue saying, “mama, I don’t want to do painting. No painting, no painting, no painting for me!” “Alright, I will sit beside you and help you with the painting. If you still don’t like it, we’ll stop.”