There are lots of stereotypes about boys. Here are some I’ve heard: they love all things transport and weaponry, they’re active, they’re noisy, they’re risk-takers, they’re cuddly, they turn anything long into a gun, they’re messy. Actually, all these stereotypes happen to apply to my three boys! It took a son’s broken arm for me to realise that I was probably in for some accidents over the course of motherhood!
Boys will be boys! Thankfully, this adventure did not result in any accidents or hospitalisations.
There are also stereotypes and statistics about boys with regards to speech and language. But what’s fact and what’s fallacy? Here are the facts:
#1: Girls talk a little earlier than boys
It’s true to say that girls cross the finish line ahead of boys, when it comes to talking. Girls say first words and first sentences earlier than boys. HOWEVER the difference is only a few months on average – 12 months for girls’ first words versus 13 or 14 months for boys. Sex differences tend to even out by about 2 ½ years.
Importantly, boys are only on the slower end of the normal range when it comes to talking. They are still, on average, within the normal range. So, if you’re comparing your son with your daughter at the same age, you may be thinking “He’s slower than her; is this normal?” GREAT QUESTION! Go to the milestones and find out. Your son may just lag behind your daughter a little. However, if he is not meeting the milestones, you should contact a Speech Pathologist.
#2: Communication problems are not caused by being a boy
Responses such as “Oh, that’s just because he is a boy! They’re always slower!” – can be so unhelpful, because they can stop people from getting help when they really need it. Look at the milestones and seek help from a qualified professional if you are concerned about your son or grandson.
#3: More boys have language problems than girls
While communication problems aren’t CAUSED by being a boy, boys are more likely to have speech and language problems. The incidence of language impairment is higher among boys than among girls, a ratio between 2:1 and 3:1.
Autism, a disorder of language and social skills, is four times more common in boys than girls.
#4: Boys need great communication models
Boys need us to play and talk with them. They will develop their skills from us. We know that the number of words a parent speaks to their child – not just to others, in their hearing, or on background TV, but actually interacting with them – this number can directly influence the language skills of the child. We need to speak to them a lot! This takes time, some basic skills and old-fashioned creativity.
Encouraging Skills in Active Boys (and girls)
The challenge with little, active children can be engaging them in conversation and the reading of books. Here are some of my tried and tested strategies, from both my clinic and home:
- Learn language through song and dance. Dance along to language-rich songs, such as Playschool or Wiggles music on CD. Encourage singing along to the words by singing along yourself. Develop his understanding of words by doing the actions and pretending to be the characters in the songs.
- Join your child in his activity. Meeting your child in the midst of his activity unlocks so many opportunities for modelling play, language, speech and social skills to him. Other benefits include building a stronger bond with your child and getting some exercise yourself! This may mean leaving the park bench and going down the slide with them, joining them on the trampoline or playing “What’s the Time Mr Wolf” with them. It will probably mean prioritising your time differently and stepping out of your comfort zone.
- Join an active playgroup. Some playgroups suit active children, such as Kindergym and music/dance-based playgroups. Look for a group which encourages language development through following instructions, repetitive songs with vocabulary relevant to children (eg. body parts) and interactive play.
- Read books in interesting ways. Some stories lend themselves to acting out, singing along to and doing actions to (eg. “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt”, “The Three Little Pigs”, “The Gruffalo”). Singing rather than speaking can keep some children engaged for longer, moving around is great for active kids, and pretending to be the characters helps to develop imaginative play skills.
- Be a sports commentator! Verbs are action words (eg. walk, run, jump) and we need them to build sentences. As your active child moves his body, describe what he is doing, from his perspective. Eg. “I am jumping”, “I can crawl along the ground”. Modelling these sentences gives him the understanding of new words, which in time he also will begin to say.
- Get the “energy” out first. Before sitting down for a book, speech therapy homework or any activity which requires sitting still, some children benefit from a period of intense activity, such as running, trampolining or bouncing on a fit ball. There’s a wonderful song called “Shake My Sillies Out”, which is an active song you could sing and dance along to, before your sit-down activity. The song helps your child to get out some of their energy, and to expect that they will sit down quietly for a length of time after the song finishes
- Time the “inactive” activities well. A child’s activity level will fluctuate through the day. Choose to read books and to play less active, language-enriching games during your child’s less active times of day.
Boys are beautiful – embrace the opportunity to be in their life!
This article appeared first in Kidz On the Coast magazine.
This advice is not intended to replace the recommendations of a Speech Pathologist for an individual with a communication impairment. If you have concerns about your child’s speech and language development, please contact a Speech Pathologist. Early detection and early intervention work.