Do your kids ever make up words? What do you do if your child has a speech problem and is using non-standard words – should you correct them? How do you manage speech development when everything is “Foofoo!”
Why do children make up words for things?
When there is a gap in someone’s language knowledge or the ability to create the word for something, they may make up a word or sound in its place. This is usually temporary
until the knowledge or ability increases. So in children, we see this when children start to label objects and try to communicate. They know what they want to say, but are not yet able to make the sounds. Or, they have decided to call an object by a certain sound or name because they don’t yet know the correct word.
For parents of kids who use made-up words, what is the best approach?
Should you correct them? Tell them they’re wrong?
The short answer is: no.
What makes a word a “real word.”
Words are the building blocks of language, and children use them to communicate with each other. Words can be anything – sound or symbol-that describes an object in some way. And so, if your child uses a sound or word consistently, then we would say that is a true, or “real” word.
For the purposes of speech and language development, a real word is a word that is used consistently to mean one specific object. Regardless of what the name of the object really is, if someone is using that sound or word to only refer to that thing or object, we consider that a real word.
For example, if a child looks at a rubber duck, and the child says “Du-du, Du-du.” Do they always call the duck Dudu? What if sometimes it’s “u-uk” and sometimes it’s something else?
If Du-du is consistently used when they see that rubber duck, then we can refer to that as a real word. Even though the word is supposed to be Duck, for that child, that is a Du-du.
If something is Foofoo, accept, acknowledge and augment their word.
Let’s say that every time you go into the kitchen and get ice cream, and your child sees the ice cream, they say “Foofoo.”
To them, Foofoo means ice cream.
If it’s a consistent usage, that is considered a real word.
But now, what do you do about Foofoo? The best thing you can do is to accept, acknowledge and augment the word.
Accept: If you can, understand that they mean ice cream.
Acknowledge: Instead of telling them no, you can simply acknowledge that you understand what they mean, for example, responding with “Ok, let’s go get ice cream.”
Augment: Using the correct word, go ahead and build on it and use it in different ways, such as “what flavor of ice cream should we have? Okay, here is your ice cream. Should we use a spoon to eat our ice cream?”
Over time, they eventually will come to understand that Foofoo is really ice cream. Perhaps you may discover that Foofoo is a flavor or color of ice cream.
What to tell your speech language pathologist about the words your child is using.
One of the questions that your SLP, your speech language pathologist, will ask you about your child is how many words they are using. At each stage of your child’s development, it is expected that they will be able to say a certain number of words.
Be sure to include all the real words your child is using. And that should include the words or sounds that they are using that may not make sense, but are consistently used for a specific object.
If you have any questions about words and language that your child is or should be using, feel free to reach out to us for a free consultation.