Hi there, I have a son of 21 months of age. He really isn't speaking much at all. He only really says dad, even though he can say mum he has stopped saying it. He does appear to understand what I'm saying (most things) as will point or get the things I ask. I read to him every day and he is only allowed an hour of screen time a day. Do you have any other suggestion how I can help him? Also my mother in law wants to him an iPad for Xmas but I said no as I feel it isn't interactive and will cause more problems. She said it will save me having so many books and puzzles? Both of these he loves and it's great as I've taught him what animals are by books etc. Are there any problems associated with iPads or tablet use in a child so young? Do you have any links or evidence? She got angry with me and said they all use them in school but he's not even 2 so seems like another way to delay his speech!

Dear Mother-in-Law

It's wonderful that you want to buy your 2 year old grandson an iPad for Christmas. Technology is, undoubtedly, a permanent fixture in our homes and with many benefits, I can see why you'd be keen to make sure your grandson is keepin up with the rest of society. Children do indeed use them in school and - once they have fully developed language skills - iPads can be a wonderful way to record, research, read and interact.

The problems occur when the iPad is used instead of real interactions - as a babysitter, if you will. No problem for half an hour or so a day; it's great for both parent and child to have a bit of respite from each other. But it gets so much easier, doesn't it, to use the iPad to console, cajole and placate when what the child might need is a bit of attention from their caregiver.  I've lost count of the times I ahve seen a family out for dinner when the adults are all talking to each other and the toddler is stuck in front of an iPad, often turned away from the parents.

If, as you suggest, the iPad would be used instead of books and puzzles, this suggests that you are willing to sit your child on your knee and cuddle them, whilst looking through the books together every time you "read" a book. Only, it's a bit too easy to not be there all the time when the book reads itself out loud and, well, you don't actually have to be there.

Even the learning designer of Leapfrog, Dr Caroln Jaynes, admits "Children under two years of age learn best from real-world experiences and interactions, and each minute spent in front of a screen-based device is a minute when your child is not exploring the world and using their senses, which is extremely important in their development process.”

And you might be interested in reading this research paper on the detrimental effect of technology on toddlers' language development. If it's a bit dry for you, it's nicely summarised in two newspaper articles - take your pick from the Telegraph or the Daily Mail whichever is your preferred newspaper of choice. 

If you want a bit more information about how technology impacts on children's language development, we can also look at how the adults interact with your grandon. These two articles look at how the impact of parent/carer's using their smart phone when interacting with the child. Article One looks at eye gaze and distractions such as using smart phones and Article Two looks at how easy it is to become distracted with your smart phone always on.

Of course, I'm not blaming your son and daughter-in-law for the fact that your son has only a handful of words. My own son didn't speak until he was 2 years old and I'm a speech and language therapist! All children learn at their own pace, but the one thing that everyone agrees on is that children learn language through interacting with others. Through hearing language being used as they are looking at what interests them in the world. Now this might mean they learn object words as they look at flashcards on an iPad but that's not real interaction. Language development is so much more than learning words. It's about joint attention, eye contact, non-verbal communication such as smiling and frowning and no matter how clever the app is you have bought for your iPad, it cannot replace human interaction. Unless you live in Australia and your grandson lives in the UK, then of course, buy an iPad and skype each other. Or if your child is unlikely to ever be able to use verbal communication, then of course, buy an iPad as an alternative means of communication. Technology is wonderful, but nothing replaces the feeling for the child of having a loving adult lying on the floor with them playing a game that they have chosen to play.

So, I'd say, save your money for this Christmas and use it to buy some of these toys or books that can truly encourage language development. Then put the rest of the money you have saved towards a weekend away for your son and daughter-in-law, whilst you offer to babysit so they can spend quality time away together.

Catherine x


Dear parent of a child who's not talking yet

You are truly not to blame for the fact that your child is not talking yet. Unless you spend every minute of every day on your smart phone and with him glued to an iPad, then you might be a little bit to blame! Children all develop at different paces. Your son might be more physically developed that other children, or maybe he's taking his time in that area too. Either way, you are not to blame. If your son can understand what you are saying to him, if he's good at getting his message across without words, if he looks you in the eye when non-verbally communicating with you, then he's most probably just a late talker. If he has good babble, then he's probably just a late talker. You might want to ask for a referral to SLT if he's totally silent (i.e. no babble) doesn't make animal noises or brm brm noises, or has no interest in you as a human being. If he doesn't seem to understand you when you say "come and get your lunch" or if he is really frustrated with not being able to communicate his needs, just ask your HV for a referral, or phone your SLT department yourself. They might have a drop-in service where you can go along and ask an SLT for some advice.

I'm going to give you some suggestions now. And you're probably already doing them, because it's not rocket science. But there may be a couple of suggestions that you think 'oh, I might try that' and this may help. So here goes:

Get face to face with your child so he can see your mouth moving. This might mean lifting the toy he is interested in up to your mouth so he can see both at the same time.

Imitate or repeat what he has said, even if this is babble or nonsense! He will love that you copied him and then may attempt to copy you.

Use simple repetitive language - he might be able to understand a big long sentence, but he won't be able to copy, so just say "coat on" rather than let's get your coat on because we are going to granny's house."

Wait, give him time to respond - if he drops something, don't jump in immediately and say something - let him respond first - he might surprise you with an "uh oh" which he didn't need to say if you said it first. 

Uuse gesture, tone of voice, facial expression - baby signing is a great way to encourage language development and no! It doesn't hinder language development!

Be careful with questions - if you ask him yes/no questions, he'll just resoprt to nodding or shaking his head. But if you say "milk or water?" He can hear the words as you show him the choices.

Have fun - he will get there, eventually. So, laugh with him, tickle him, get him really laughing and motivated and then you can ask "more" and he might say "more" because he is doing fun activities that he loves.

If you are doing most of those strategies already, then keep going - you are doing everything you can to encourage language development. But you can't pull words out of his mouth. You cannot force him to talk. He will talk when he is ready. All you can do is ensure that his language environment is at the right level for him.

6-8% of children have a language difficulty and it doesn't matter how interactive you are with him now, he will struggle with language development if he is one of those 6-8%. But, I'm thinking he's more likely to be in the 92-94% of children who will develop language just fine, he just needs a little bit of time, and human interaction not iPads!

Catherine x

PS You might not want to show your MIL this open letter to her; just cut and paste the evidence!!