"He doesn't talk much because his elder sister does the talking for him" – this is something many speech-language pathologists hear. When a second or last-born child has a speech language delay, parents often say a variation of this statement.
Studies show that later-born children do take longer to develop speech and language, but the delay should not be significant.
So, does having a sibling always mean delayed speech and language development? Does it always come with caveats?
Apparently not. Since a sibling can help with the speech and language therapy of a child with speech or language disorder(s). While speech therapists can interact with a child for a limited time and in-clinic environments, the child's sibling has the opportunity to interact with them throughout the day at home, in school, or during playtime.
How Can Siblings Help with Speech-Language Therapy at Home?
Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) should always involve sibling(s) in the therapy process if it is appropriate and convenient.
It will be beneficial to both or all the children involved in the process, irrespective of their age and birth order.
Siblings Can Become Speech & Language Model
You may be teaching a child to construct longer sentences or say the /r/ words correctly. However, you cannot see how well they are performing outside the clinic setup.
You can teach their sibling(s) to talk slower, use longer and grammatically correct sentences, and monitor their pronunciation at home or in school. During games or regular conversations, their siblings can not only monitor progress but also encourage them to practice more.
Siblings are typically supportive and motivating. SLPs can utilize this positive relationship for the benefit of the child in therapy.
Siblings Can Help Teach By Taking Turns
Waiting for someone to finish talking or communicating is a very important skill. However, children may become impatient and finish sentences for each other or interrupt others.
With the help of a therapist, you can teach the sibling in question to wait for their brother or sister to finish talking before they express their opinions. You can also teach them the importance of not speaking for their brother or sister if they experience a stuttering block.
Taking turns is a crucial skill that will help the children get along better outside therapy.
Brothers or Sisters Can Help the Child Set Realistic Speech Therapy Goals
The same speech therapy exercises will not work for everyone. SLPs have to tailor exercises and speech therapy goals for each child depending on their needs, abilities, and progress.
While it is a challenging task to set appropriate goals each time, SLPs can do so by talking to a sibling. For example, a therapist can ask, “When do you have trouble understanding what your brother/sister is saying?” and they can say something like, “when he/she is in front of other people, his/her voice is too low and I don’t understand what he/she is saying at all.”
Conversations like these can give the SLP an idea about the real-life situations that a child finds challenging. You can work with the therapist to set realistic and appropriate goals for the child. You can also share new strategies that will help them achieve these goals.
Siblings Can Help Overcome Social Anxiety
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a support system while facing emotionally challenging situations. So, if your child in therapy has a sibling, rope them in for extra help.
Social anxiety, shame, embarrassment, and fear are common accompaniments of speech and language disorders. Teach the sibling(s) to be supportive. You can also teach them how to role-play different social situations like ordering ice cream, answering in class, or placing an order at a restaurant.
Brothers and Sisters Can Take the Responsibility for Continuing Therapy outside Clinic Hours
Try to include siblings in the sessions. If they watch and learn the different techniques the SLP is using with the child, they can carry them over at home or school.
They can keep practicing among themselves. During the next session, the therapist may even receive honest feedback from the sibling about how well the child has performed in different situations.
Here’s how you can help your children help each other with speech-language therapy at home –
1. Cultivate an Environment of Support and Encouragement At Home
It’s important to teach your kids to be supportive of each other, which can begin by being “kind” to one another. Children often end up saying mean things when they are hurt or annoyed. You can teach them to channel their negative emotions healthily without using unkind words.
Open new channels of clear communication. Teach them to ask questions like, “how are you feeling after school today?” or “did XYZ make fun of you again? How did that make you feel?” Discussing feelings without using negative or hurtful words is crucial in fostering a supportive and safe environment at home.
Tell them to appreciate one another, such as saying "Hey, you have really improved at saying the S-sound" or "I love that speech therapy idea you just shared"
2. Teach "Turn-Taking" To Minimize Interruptions
Taking turns to talk at home can address more than half of the problems children face outside therapy sessions. When you teach your children to take turns while talking at home, you are also preparing them to behave maturely in the outside world.
If your children are young, you can use a stuffed toy or a toy microphone to signify a sharing time. Whosoever has the toy gets the chance to talk. Ensure that all the kids at home and even the adults follow this process at least once per day. Everyone should get the same number of chances if necessary. They can pass the toy back and forth whenever necessary to share their opinion.
3. Teach Active Listening To Siblings
Active listening includes making eye contact, reacting empathetically, asking probing questions about the subject matter, and remaining intrigued but non-judgmental. Although it sounds like a lot, children are naturally empathetic and non-judgmental.
While it is difficult to teach all these qualities to very young children, one of the easiest ways is to model active listening for them. Whenever one of your children is sharing a story, listen with your ears, eyes, mind, and body language. Very soon, your children may begin to listen to each other actively like "mommy" or "daddy" does.
4. Teach Them New Games and Fun Activities That Will Enhance Speech and Language Skills
Your child’s speech therapist is the best resource person for this task. Request them to have a session with all your children and teach them fun activities and games that can enhance language skills.
Keep a close watch or participate in these at-home activity sessions whenever you find the time! There is no better way to spend quality time with your children and contribute to their language therapy.
Speech therapy at home is never trite if the child has a brother or sister to keep them company. Involve your children in speech therapy activities together to create a safe and communication-positive environment at home. Siblings are natural support systems for each other, and they can help each other improve and grow!