Teach Your Child To Say “Mama”

Today on my show “Teach Me To Talk with Laura and Kate,” one of our wonderful callers Annette shared with us that although her son is talking now and understands and says, “Dada,” he’s not yet saying “Mama.” How heartbreaking for her!

This is a mom who’s poured out her blood, sweat, and tears over the last several months to do anything she can to pull him into interacting with her, and now that he is, she’s elated. But…. she still doesn’t hear that magical word, that word we all wait with baited breath to hear from our sweet, little babies – “Mama.”

On our show today, we gave Annette a couple of different ways to work on how to help him learn to call her Mama, but before we get into that, let’s review what could be going on. (Let me say that I didn’t explore all of these with Annette on air, and I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her cute little boy, so I don’t know with any certainty why her particular son isn’t doing this yet. However, it is not uncommon for children with language delays to struggle with learning to say “Mama” for several different reasons. I’m going to discuss the possibilities of why he’s not doing it yet, and hopefully give you some ideas so that you can work on these at home with your child who may not yet be saying this wonderful word.

Possibility #1 -Conceptually the child has not made the connection between this particular word and his actual mother.

Sometimes it’s because this word has not been presented to him in the same way that he learns all of his other words.Since his mother is likely doing most of the teaching, it’s hard for her to label herself in a way that makes sense to him. When she’s teaching him names for other things, she’s repeating the word many times, holding up the object, or pointing to it so he gets what she’s talking about. She may even have him “ask” for it so that she knows he’s made the connection between the word and the actual object or event. This is kinda’ hard to do with yourself! Even though a mother is likely saying “mama” in context all day long (“Give it to Mama.” “Do you want Mama?” “Where’s Mama – Here I am!”), it’s just not the same for him as when his primary language labeler says it, shows it, and does it in the way that she teaches everything else.

Solution – Use very specific activities to teach him to conceptualize or learn this as your label/name. Ideas you can try at home.

1.Play the “Mama “game.

Just like you’ve tried to teach him “Dada” or any other name by constantly labeling that person, you’re going to have to get someone to play with you to label you as “Mama” and then you’re going to have to reinforce him using “Mama” in the most powerful way you can.

The most success I’ve had with this is by placing the child in a confined area, say the crib, or behind a gate, or in a room with a closed door and me. Mom hides outside the room, behind the door, or bends down below the crib so that the child can’t see her. Then I model calling, “Mama. Mama. Maaaaaaamaaaaaaaaa” several times using an exaggerated, playful, and animated tone of voice.I can’t stress how FUN and ‘over the top’ you need to be when you’re playing this game. Coach the other person to increase their affect if they’re not being as excited as they should be.   Cup your hands on either side of your mouth too so that a child attends to your mouth and the act of “calling.” Sometimes we’ll see a child begin to copy that action before we actually hear the word and that’s great progress! He understands what you’re doing and this tells you the game is working and to keep practicing!

After calling for mom in this way several times, Mama excitedly jumps out from her hiding place with a big smile and shouts,”Mama! Here’s Mama! Mama!” We all laugh and smile and hug and tickle so that it’s very clear that this is a fun game that we all want to play again. Then we play it again. And again. And again, until I think he’s ready to begin to try to imitate “Mama” when I model this. If he even hints that he’s trying to say this on his own, I ask Mom to pop up with the biggest reaction she can muster so that he links his action (saying the word) with her return.

Older siblings are GREAT at playing this game with mom and younger brothers and sisters. The act of having someone else “call” you and label you as “mama” sometimes helps a child solidfy this concept. If you have no other children, then have Dad, grandma, your sitter or even a neighbor come in to help you teach your child this fun game. Don’t try to do it alone. Having another person call you “mama” is what makes this game work.

2. Play the “name” game for everyone at home.

I usually recommend that families do this at dinner or at another time when everyone in your family is seated and isn’t distracted. (Meaning no TV or other playful activity going on!) Start with the “name” your child most easily understands or says and ask, “Where’s ______?” Build up the anticipation by asking it several times. Hold your hands out and look around expectantly. Wait for your child to look at the person, point, say the name himself, or somehow indicate where the person is. Even if he doesn’t, have everyone else excitedly point, look, and shout the person’s name. Have the person named say their name, such as “Dada!” or “Sissy!” That person should also hold up their arms or clap or do something to indicate that he or she is the person named. Laugh, giggle, smile, hug, and make this a total riot for your toddler.Repeat it for every member of your family, but especially have someone else ask, “Where’s Mama!” so he doesn’t hear that label from you.

Possibility #2 – The child is a visual learner and needs a new method of presentation for this word to make sense and “sink in.”

Some kids learn almost everything they know visually, by seeing it, and not auditorily, just from hearing it. That’s what makes it so difficult for kids like this to learn language since language is an auditory communication system. These are the kids who like to look at pictures in books, and these are the kids who LOVE screens (like apps on your phone, a DVD, TV) and videos. Use this to your advantage.

Solution – Teach him “Mama” in the way he learns.

1. Make a”Mama Video.”

Get your husband, partner, boyfriend, a grandparent, an older sibling, your best friend, or ANYONE to come and shoot some footage of you in some very focused and specifc activities I’ll teach you below so your child can learn to label you as “Mama.” This has been a huge success every time I’ve used it. This is so easy now with smart phones!

Try to shoot the beginning shots with as plain a background as possible. Try to look as “normal” as possible too. If you usually wear sweat pants and have your hair in a pony tail, don’t doll up for this movie. Your kid may not recognize you!

Begin by standing right there in living color, looking right into the camera and saying “Mama.” Smile. Pause. Say “Mama” again. Wave. Say “Mama” again. Blow kisses or do any other action your child might associate with you. Say Mama in this way 5 or 6 different times with huge pauses in between so that your child can begin to imitate and say “mama” himself during these pauses. Then have your person behind the camera say it a few times in imitation of you, or after you say “Mama” again several times. This will help your child begin to imitate this word.

After 4 or 5 rounds of saying “Mama” in this way with waving or blowing kisses or some other simple action your child will recognize this, turn the camera off and reposition yourself behind a door or couch or counter. Then have the person who is videoing you turn the camera back on focused on your hiding place. Have that person ask, “Where’s Mama? Where’s Mama? Mama! Mama?” Jump out from behind the obstacle in a very animated and playful way and say, “Mama” with as much warmth and excitement as you can muster. Again have your camera person say, “Mama! Here’s Mama! Mama!” Repeat this several different times in several different locations. Don’t forget to use pauses so that your child can being to imitate the word “mama” at the appropriate times.

Sometimes families have added other statements such as, “There she is!” or “Hi Mama!” But I think it’s most effective to limit the word to “Mama” so that there’s no doubt what you want your child to learn to say.

You can repeat this with other family members too. But again, if saying “Mama” is the goal, don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be!

Once your child can do this, move on to the Mama games listed above in #1 or reenact some of your “hiding” places from the video in real-life too. So if you’ve hidden behind the pantry door in your Mama video, when your child is in the kitchen, hide behind the pantry door and call yourself to play this game in real time.

2. Make a “Mama” album.

If your child likes to scroll through your phone or the iPad, make an album of pictures you so that he sees you. The key is, you MUST scroll through the pictures with him saying, “Mama!” several times for each picture. He can’t just look at the pictures by himself – there’s no language with that activity! He must hear the word “Mama” as he sees the pictures to make this efective. You have to purposefully point too and label the pictures by saying “Mama” over and over again, not just 2 or 3 times. Get an older sibling or your sitter or Dad or other important people to repeat this activity with your child too. Try to use this activity during times when he wants your phone and doesn’t want to do other things such as when you’re waiting in line somewhere or anytime you’re sitting with him and can talk to him in the way I’ve recommended.

For kids who love books, make your very own Mama photo album. Have someone take lots of current pictures of you. You’ll need new ones, not ones from 20 pounds ago, or when your hair was longer or blonder, or any other pre-mom photos since we all know how different you look now that you’re sleep-deprived and exhausted from chasing a toddler! It used to be really hard for moms to come up with several pictures since we are usually the ones behind the camera, but with the invention of “selfies” any mom can take your own picture right now with your phone! Take several new ones, and again in your “normal” everyday Mom attire. If someone else is taking the pictures for you, Get close ups with few background distractions.

Print the pictures. Buy a small, cheap album from the Dollar store and place the pictures inside. Don’t spend lots of money on the album or buy a nice one that you’ll use as a keepsake, because my hope is that your child will love it so much that he’s going to want to carry it around with him all of the time. You’ll be less likely to let him do it if it’s expensive or pretty, and you’ll find yourself getting too upset if he tears it, chews it,whirls it at the dog, or flips the pictures with his dirty, little hands. Help him look at it and say “Mama” about 150 times with as few other words as you can force yourself to do. Point to yourself. Say it again and wait, wait, wait for him to say it back to you. Introduce the book at times when he is calm and ready to look at it for more than a few seconds. Right before nap or bedtime is a good idea, or when he’s strapped into his car seat, or sitting in the waiting room at the pediatrician’s office when you need a quiet activity. Don’t forget to have the other important people your life look at his book too and label “Mama.” Be sure to teach them not to say very many other words in the beginning since your main goal for this book is teaching him to say, “Mama.”

Possibility #3 -For whatever reason, he can’t say the sound /m/ and/or sequence the /m/ sound with a vowel yet to form the word “Mama.”

This could be a physiological issue – he has low muscle tone so he can’t get his lips consistently closed to form the speech sound /m/. (Look for lip closure at other times. It actually takes very little lip “strength” to close your lips to produce an intelligible /m/ sound, so if he can perform this movement when he’s not talking, low tone is not a significant factor for him.)

Not producing /m/ could be a sensory issue – Some kids don’t like the feeling of their lips being together to vibrate for /m/. These are the kids who may refuse lots of foods, hate having their faces washed, or flip out when you try to brush their teeth. They truly are HYPERSENSITIVE in and around their mouths or possibly all over their bodies.

Then there’s the other extreme. HYPOSENSITIVE – These kids have so little awareness of their mouths that they don’t even know “how” to make an /m/ sound. Usually there are other indicators such as profuse drooling after age 2 since they don’t routinely close their mouths (usually mouth breathers from a sensory perspective OR because they have so many allergy/respiratory issues that they HAVE to mouth breathe!). This may be a kid who constantly places toys or other things in his mouth. Or it may be a kid who overstuffs his mouth with food to the point that he gags. He lacks the normal sensations in his mouth. For whatever reason, he does not “feel” things normally in his little mouth.

Not saying /m/ could also be a coordination, or motor planning and sound sequencing issue. He may even be able to use an /m/ sound alone, but not necessarily combined with the ‘a’ for Mama.

Solution – Work on the /m/ sound.

My favorite way to get this sound is by saying “mmm, mmm, mmm, mmm, mmm” with foods he loves. Exaggerate this sound! Shake your shoulders when you do it. Make it so sillyand captivating that he’s going to want to try to imitate you.

While earlier in my career I may have tried chapstick or lip gloss on your lips and then hers (or his!) and again exaggerated rubbing my lips together to increase sensory awareness of his lips, now we know that that’s more likely to promote tongue protrusion since the child will only want to lick that yummy stuff right off his lips! Some SLPs like vibrating toys or textured spoons, but I’ve even stopped doing all fo this.

You MAY even try helping him get his lips closed by placing your index finger above his top lip and your thumb below his bottom lip and helping him close his lips, but if he’s negative or over-reactive to this very hands-on approach, stop. Don’t overdo this method because then you’ll ruin it for the both of you!

One little guy I have right now on my caseload is responding very well to the verbal cue, “Hide your lips” to produce an /m/ sound when he watches me model this sound.

When a child can produce an “m” sound, or even if he can’t, keep modeling “mama” in speech often so he begins to imitate it, even if it’s not in context, or purposeful just yet.

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I hope these ideas help your child begin to say this magic word! Pretty soon I hope you’re hearing “Mama! Mama!” all the time. Then you have to promise NOT to complain when he says it so much in a that it makes you crazy, but that’s a whole different post!!!

Laura

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Comments

  1. Annette says

    Hi Laura!
    I just wanted to give you a little update on the “mama” issue. I have been so busy around here, I just haven’t had the time to tell you about it.

    About 2 weeks after I called in about this, Jake started calling me mom! He picked it up from my 5 yr old daughter! She calls me from another room and he will reciprocate. Now, if I am out of his sight, he will holler on his own… Mooooommmm!!! I love it! If he wants my attention, he says, “Mom, Look!”

    I still play a hiding under a blanket game and ask “Where’s Mommy?” Then jump out and say, “There she is!” I am working on asking questions (which he is getting so good at now) and also answering them… which is still a bit slow, but he does have some answers to a few.

    He is also all about “why?” these days! It’s great to be so annoyed! hee hee

    I love your site! You are my hero! I come here almost daily to get more familiar with ALL of your articles.. Yours is my most referred site to others I encounter with speech delayed children. I can’t wait for each new article you publish!

    I have some questions about Echolalia and will try to address those with you soon. I don’t think Jake has a problem per se, but I wonder at what degree does parroting become more like Echolalia?

    Thanks again! You are the greatest!

    Annette +Jake

  2. Laura says

    Annette – Isn’t “Mama” the best word ever! So glad you’re hearing it from your little guy! Thanks again for the praise!

    Imitation (or parroting) is a part of normal language development. We do want to teach and see lots of imitation, especially in the immediate context such as situations when you are modeling what your child should say in a specific situation and then he imitates you. It becomes problematic when there are chunks of information imitated at a later time, especially when there appears to be no logical connection to the current situation, AND when the echolalic utterances aren’t eventually replaced by more spontaneous language. For some children, especially those who have demonstrated red flags for autism (with or without a formal diagnosis), this may take a while.

    In typical language development, spontaneous utterances do begin to dominate what a child says by about age 2 1/2 and certainly beyond. A child who is still “echoing” quite a bit after this point likely hasn’t reached this language age yet when you analyze what language he’s using receptively (what he understands and how he processes what’s said to him) and expressively (what he says). Hope this helps to make some sense out of a really difficult issue! Laura

  3. Samantha says

    Dear Laura,
    It breaks my heart that my 17 month old just won’t do it. The worst part? I’ve tried all of the steps above and all he says is DADA. If I say, “Say mama.” He responds, with a smile, “Dada!” I know he doesn’t understand that this hurts me, but it does. Coupled with the fact that he runs to daddy when daddy asks him, but walks away when I do It makes me start to wonder, does my son not like me?
    I know these are foolish thoughts but I simply don’t know what else to do! Please help!!

    ~Tearful Mama, Samantha

  4. Laura says

    Oh Samantha…. I know it’s disappointing for you that he doesn’t say “mama” yet. But these ideas really do work, so keep at them. The best one I’ve found & the one that most consistently works is playing the “Mama” game. Have Dad do the calling for you with him so that he’s making the distinction that your names are different. Enlist Dad’s help at other times too by having him prompt your son to say, “mama.”

    I’d also recommend that you really “up your fun factor” when you interact with him. Many times toddlers, and little boys in particular, seem to prefer to play with Daddy because Daddy really PLAYS! Dads notoriously roughhouse and are a bucket of fun when moms are more intimate and low-key. If this is the case, then be more animated when you’re playing with him. Chase him, tickle him, throw him up in the air, help him jump on the bed, swing him around in your arms, and perform all of those other tricks he loves with Daddy. Play, play, play if you’re not doing that already.
    If you’re not sure how to do this with and without toys, check out my DVD Teach Me To Talk. The clips alone should give you some ideas about how “fun” you should be when playing with him.
    Many babies say “dada” as their “default” word too, so it could be that he’s saying “dada” because it’s all he CAN say. Does he have other words? If not, then know that he’s not really Dad-obsessed, he just can’t say other consonants yet. That may not be consolation to you, but if you’ll think about it as he “can’t” say mama rather than he “won’t” say mama, it will probably help you feel better.

    Hope these ideas help! Laura

  5. kasey says

    hi my daughter is 9 mo old and she started saying ‘mama’ to everything at 8 1/2 mo but now she has learned ‘dada’ and that is all she will say. I feel like she forgot how to say mama, and im so disapionted! I keep saying ‘mama’ to her and she pointes at me and then just keeps doing whatever she was doing, is there anyway I can get her to say it again? I’m so sad I feel like she has forgot how to say ‘mama’.

  6. Laura says

    Kasey – She’s so young Kasey, so I wouldn’t worry. She’ll be able to say it again and likely soon. The important thing is that she UNDERSTANDS who you are and points at you when you ask her. I’d also recommend that you try the Mama game with her by having Dad “call” you with her. Thanks for your question. Laura

  7. Suruchi says

    Hi Laura,

    I came upon your website in a kind of a desperate situation.My 23 month old boy still does not speak.He babbles a lot,but is not pointing to anything and does not even call “mama” and “dada”.We are very worried.I know that he can point and can say words because he used to point to objects for a few days before and he used to say 2-3 words before,bubt not anymore.I spend hours teaching him to say a word,but he thinks it is fun and continue either laughing or babling in a happy manner.He just seems to me to be a too much of a happy-go-lucky kind of child.He seems very smart in all other activites and follows and understands almost all directions.PLease help.

  8. Laura says

    Suruchi – There are lots of articles here on the website for ideas with how to work with him at home. I’d also recommend that you check out my DVDs for ideas so you can SEE how to work with him to teach him those words you want to hear!

    Since you describe yourself as “desperate” I’d also recommend that you have him evaluated by a speech-language pathologist so that you can find out exactly why he’s not talking. You’ve already said that he follows directions and is social which are great foundational skills, but there could be other identifiable reasons he’s not talking, and a professional can help you not only figure that out, but more importantly, help you learn to teach him to talk and communicate at home. Thanks for your question! Laura
    Laura

  9. Kim says

    I have an 18 month old daughter who still will not say Mama. We just made a video today and we are starting to play the Mama game. Any thoughts on how long these tricks usually take before I get to hear her finally say Mama?

    Thanks so much,
    Kim

  10. Laura says

    Kim – It really depends on the child. For some it may take several weeks, so don’t give up after a few days. Usually the more often you play, the faster it will happen. Shoot for several times a day so it becomes familiar to her, but not so much that she’s sick to death of it! Let us know how it goes! I know you can’t wait to hear that sweet word! Laura

  11. Lisa says

    Hi

    I have a 23 month old son who can’t say mamma either. He says about 30 words or so immitates sounds pretty good. When he first started to talk he would say maa maa but stopped. He always mmmms when he eats. :) I did notice that he can’t really say moo. He says mboo. Sometimes he gets out moo but he has to pause a bit. I think he’s trying to call me abma. But it’s so hard to see if that’s the connection he’s making. I’m home with him all day. Any advice? Should I take him to speech therapy for his m’s?

  12. Laura says

    Lisa – I’d go ahead and get him evaluated in the next couple of months to rule out any huge issue for him if he doesn’t mature and begin to use words with /m/, especially “Mama.” The speech errors that you’re describing sound a little atypical in that he can say /m/ when he’s not using it in words.

    If he had more words, say closer to 50, and if he already spoke in short phrases, I’d be less concerned about him. The MINIMUM number of words we want a 24 month old to use is 50, and we also want them to use 2 word phrases to communicate frequently, and it sounds like he’s not quite there yet. He’s not exhibiting a major delay, based on what you’ve said, but there are enough concerns to warrant an eval just to be on the safe side. You don’t want to a problem to persist and grow when a few months of therapy could address any issue and get him caught up with little effort at this point compared to what it could be if you waited until he is older.

    Call your state’s early intervention program for an assessment to see if qualifies for therapy. Since he’s already talking, he may not be eligible since often times children must be quite delayed before receiving services, but they can refer you on to an SLP who could see him and teach you how to work with him at home.

    The other idea would be to take a look at my DVDs including Teach Me To Talk to work on developing his vocabulary and Teach Me To Talk with Apraxia and Phonoological Disorders to target new sounds and overall intelligibility.

    Either way, good job noticing that he’s having some issues. Many moms dismiss their initial concerns for months or even years before getting help for a speech-language issue. I’m glad you’re not waiting. He’s lucky to have you as his mom. Laura

  13. Lisa says

    Hi Again,

    thank you Laura for your response. he’ll be 23 months next week and I just actually took a look at his word list and he is actually up past 50+ words, even counting to 10, but some words aren’t perfectly sound so I wasn’t counting them. Like all those m words. He says some big words like giraffe and elephant. :o)

    My pediatrician said see how he’s doing at his 2 year appt in June, but I tend to think the issue with m’s has to do with the fact that he spent the last 7 months suffering from an undiagnosed fruit and egg white allergy. During that time he was always suffering from a runny nose and had a terrible time breathing, he breathed a lot through his mouth and I wonder if he just got used to saying words that way. Before this he was able to say Ma Ma. As for phrases he does say some. He says “I did it,” “I do it,” “all done,” and sings sentences from songs.

    This morning he said elbow instead of elmo. He’s replacing all the m’s for b’s. I wonder if it may be an ear issue? Is there a way to test that first before therapy. I have to wonder with every m word-moon, more, moo, mama, milk, mouse, elmo, ect. All being replaced with b’s.

    Other than that he’s quite bright. He has a great memory and listens well. He’s trying to say new words everyday.

    Oh and he still signs. He’s been signing since he was 6 months. Does that cause and issue?

    Which DVD do you recommend from your collection? He’s great at repeating DVD’s that we have from baby signing.

    thanks so much

  14. Laura says

    Lisa – I’m glad his vocabulary is larger than what you originally reported and that sounds in line with what we would want to see for his age. We DO count word approximations as real words. Your link between his stuffy nose and not saying /m/ is interesting, and it may turn out to be the reason, but since he CAN get his lips together for /b/, you know that physiologically he will be able to produce /m/ since they’re both lip sounds. You should certainly have his hearing tested to rule that out hearing loss, and that’s a common recommendation anytime a child is experiencing speech-language issues. Great job on the signing! Signing does NOT cause a child to talk later, so there are no worries about that. I think you need to have him seen by a speech-language pathologist to diagnose what’s going on and work on those /m/ words. She can teach you what to do at home. In the meantime, will he imitate you with humming? Try to get him to hum along with you “mmmmmmmm.” After you’ve done that a couple of times, see if he’ll repeat words that begin with /m/ as you emphasize that sound such as “Mmmmama. Mmmmooo.” That shouldn’t take long to help him hear the difference and make that transition. If it does, then you definitely need an SLP to take a look at him and tlak you through it. Thanks for your questions! Laura

  15. Mir says

    Hi Laura,

    Just came across your website. We are a bilingual family. My son who is 17 month old doesn’ t say mama or dada. He doesn’t say baba(that’s what we call father in our house hold)and only says ba randomly not to his dad specifically. He says around 10 other words and follows directions which leads me to believe that his receptive speech is much better than expressive and also have no hearing issues. Having said that he doesn’t seem to follow commands if I say where is mama or give it to baba etc, but would follow if i say me or him instead of mama or baba. He is social, likes to be around people and babbles with all different consonants. Please help me and help me find a speech and language pathologist in Chicago land who understands Urdu or Hindi as well

  16. Laura says

    Hi Mir. You’ll need to Google information about Illinois’ Early Intervention program and then ask the coordinator assigned to your case about the availability of a bilingual SLP. I do think it’s a good idea to go ahead and have him evaluated now, but he may not qualify since he’s pretty young and does have a few words. To be eligible for EI services in most states, children must exhibit a significant delay, but have him checked out anyway. You can read lots of ideas here on the website to help you and you may also want to check out my DVDs to SEE how to work with him at home. Good luck to you all! Laura

  17. Mir says

    Hi Laura,

    Thanks for your prompt reply. How do I go about getting him evaluated? Also I was just wondering if its normal to know other words or names of things but not knowing what to call your parents?

  18. Erika says

    Hi Laura,
    Thanks for all of your advice on this site. I have been trying to get my 18 month old to say “mama” for about 2 months now. Now, when I say “mama” to her, she points to herself. I think she is imitating me because I point to myself when I am trying to teach her this word. I will promptly start using some of the techniques you have suggested on this site to see if I can get my little one to say “mama”. Right now she does have about 10 other words that she says consistently but I think I just expect her to have more at this age. She also uses continuous babbling when talking on the phone or talking to me. Her receptive language seems fine but do you think I should be worried with her only having about 10 true words right now?

  19. Laura says

    Hi Erika! I hope that the Mama game works for you! With 10 words she’s a little behind, but don’t panic. Keep modeling new words for her to imitate. Focus on a few key words for each of your daily routines so that you’re being mroe purposeful about which words she should repeat. Repetition and persistency is so important for new talkers. Also make sure you’re very playful and use a sing-song voice so it makes her more likely to imitate. Let us know how she does! Laura

  20. Ruth says

    Hi Laura!

    My son is 31 months. He can identify me as mama but he cannot call my attention by calling my name. If he wants to my attention, he just grab my face (when I am sitting with him). Is there are a way I can teach him to call me mama if he wants my attention?

    He was 1 to 3 word utterances. I tried to play the mama game for 2 weeks now, still does not have result.

  21. Stephanie says

    Hi Laura,

    My son is 21 months old and does not say any words. We are working with our local early intervention office and a teacher sees him once a week. We had to start with the teacher to begin services. His hearing has been evaluated and is perfectly normal. We went for a speech evaluation and he will be starting speech therapy once the EI office approves the service. My concern is that he has zero words not even mom or dad. He will make noises and animal sounds and will consistently sign his word for more. What I am really trying to find out is WHY he can’t talk and if there is a disorder that describes his behavior. He is very social and seems to be developing fairly normally other than speech. Although he does not often maintain eye contact and it can be very difficult to pry his attention away from the things he really likes. He is capable of following directions like bring me your cup by does not always do so. Any thoughts or thingd to consider are appreciated. It is heartbreaking that he doesn’t say Mama or Dada but just as heartbreaking that he uses zero words at all. I long to hear him say any word!

  22. Irda says

    Hi laura! I chanced upon this website by accident. N i truly am blessed cos i was looking for other non related matter on google. And yes! With god’s grace, he wanted me to read this! My boy is 23 mths now. He used to say mama at 6mths n daddy at arnd the same age. His brother, in malay language is abang, n sister in the same language is kakak. He can call both his elder siblings in malay perfectly. Only now, he calls daddy, baba n me baba too. He is addicted to his pacifier n i know its bad… Cld that be the reason that he is havin difficulties is saying m words? Btw, im excited to try the games n ideas uve suggested. Ill get my elder kids to help me with this! Thanks! – Irda, from Singapore.

  23. Lynne says

    I am in exactly the same situation. My 21 month old son says ‘yeah’ all day long, and doesn’t say anything else. He was just evaluated by EI and shows a 25% delay in all categories except gross motor skills. I have a follow up appt with EI in 2 weeks and look forward to starting therapy. I have a hearing test scheduled for next week. What can I do with him at home in the meantime to get him to comprehend better?

  24. jen says

    My son is 27 almost 28 months old. He says only the word Yeah and points, he does speech therapy once a week since 22 months. He will do some of the M sounds but will not say mama or dada, actually no other words except yeah he will do wooo wooo like a train. very loud things like a train blowing their whistle does not seems to bother his ears. He did a hearing booth test while he sat on my lap but seemed to lose interest when the tester switched to tones instead of her voice and did not look at a speaker until the bunny rabbitt turned on. We repeated this test also. Next we are going to children’s hosptial to do another hearing test. What I would like to know laura does this sound like a true hearing problem or just being a stubborn little boy

  25. Laura says

    Stephanie – Many times we never can find a REASON a child is language delayed, and I know that’s hard for a parent to accept. I encourage parents to invest the time they want to spend tracking down one specific, particular cause and instead invest that time in working with their child at home. It’s the therapy that will over time make the most significant difference in how he improves and his overall outcome long term – not the “label” or a cause. Does that make sense to you? I hope that you’re following through with the recommendations your EI therapist is teaching you to improve his language. You may also want to check out my DVD Teach Me To Talk to help you implement additional play-based activities with him at home. Good luck to you all! Laura

  26. Laura says

    Jen – I can’t see your little boy, so I can’t say one way or the other what’s going on, but please know that I NEVER believe that “stubborn” is the reason a child doesn’t talk or respond during a hearing test. While we certainly do see behavioral issues in toddlers, blaming late talking, or in this case, poor responding on a hearing assessment is mislabeling the real problem – he’s not acquiring skills in the normal way we’d expect.

    I’m glad you’re pursuing the additional hearing assessment, likely an ABR (auditory brainstem response) testing which will defintively and objectively measure his ability to hear, and I would encourage you to follow through with that recommendation.

    However, many times, hearing loss is not the reason a toddler is not talking, but it should definitely be ruled out as the reason for language delay, particularly if your SLP has reason to believe it is a factor. If it does turn out that he’s hearing impaired, then you’ll be able to get him fitted for hearing aids and move on with your therapy. If it’s not, you’ll be able to cross that potential cause off your list, and again, move on with your therapy. I’m so glad that you’re working with an SLP to determine not only WHY he’s not talking yet, but to find ways to improve his ability to communicate.

    Many times children with social communication issues such as autism or cognitive issues do perform poorly on sound field testing because they lack the awareness to continue to respond as they should. If the audiologist is skilled in pediatric hearing assessment, and we have to assume that he/she was, then there’s another reason your little boy failed the test. Children with typical development and hearing that’s within normal limits pass an audiological assessment with no problems. Thank goodness we have ABR and can take the “behavioral” responses – looking when you should – out of the equation. Good luck with everything! Laura

  27. Laura says

    Lynne – Please read the articles in the receptive language category which will provide ways to target how he comprehends language at home. You may also want to check out my DVDs Teach Me To Listen and Obey 1 and 2. A child has to UNDERSTAND words BEFORE he’s able to use those words to talk. By teaching him to link meanings to words, you’re on the way to helping him learn how to communicate. You’re so wise to want to start here since this is often the root cause of late talking in toddlers. Laura

  28. Laura says

    Irda – So glad you’ve found the website and have some new ideas to work with your little boy. Do you have access to early intervention services and speech therapy in your area of Singapore? I’d highly encourage you to pursue professional evaluation if he doesn’t dramatically improve with your work with him at home. Have you checked out my DVDs? SEEING the play-based activities will help you know how to use toys and simple play routines to facilitate language development. We do ship orders outside the USA almost every day! All international orders are processed through PayPal. Email me if you want more information or details. In the meantime, I’m so glad the suggestions here on the website are helping you! Good luck to you all! Laura

  29. Stephanie says

    That does make sense Laura. Thank you. We are doing our best to do the things his EI teacher suggests. I actually ordered your full internet set on Friday. :-)

  30. Stephanie says

    Just a few more questions Laura… Won’t the diagnosis make a difference in the type of therapy that is most effective for him? I guess perhaps once a diagnosis is made (or if) then we would evaluate the current therapy plan to be sure it is suited to the diagnosis? I know the therapy and things we do with him at home are going to have the biggest impact.

    I know your DVDs will have some signs but do you have any recommendations of a DVD I might be able to find and pick up at a retail store to use until my order arrives?

    Last One for the moment… Are you familiar with the proloquo2go program? Our son does great with our tablets and was considering the proloquo2go to combine with the sign language and therapy. I thought it might at least be a tool to reinforce words with the way they sound and the sign language all at the same time and give him the opportunity to “speak” his needs and wants until he learns how to make the words. Of course I don’t want to do anything that will discourage him from talking either…
    Thanks again!

  31. Laura says

    Stephanie – To some degree the diagnosis does help a therapist design treatment activities but ONLY if it helps direct and explain to us to what the real deficits are. As speech-language pathologists, we don’t really treat a specific diagnosis – such as autism or Down Syndrome or even hearing loss. We target the social, receptive, expressive, or intelligibility issues a child is exhibiting, regardless of whatever label he may or may not have. When we generalize treatments according to a diagnosis without looking at a child’s very specific areas of strengths and weaknesses, we very well may miss areas that will be important to address in therapy.

    I don’t use lots of technology with children under 3 because I want them to be very, very socially connected to me since engagement and interaction are the foundations for establishing communication. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends NO screen time (TV, DVDs, computer games) for children under 2 and limited amounts after 2 since babies learn to best communicate from other people, not from technology. This is particularly important for children who have even mild issues with social interaction and responding AND those with a tendency to “zone out” to all other stimuli in their environment when the TV or game is being used. Many researchers also believe that excessive “screen time” in young children wires a child’s brain to “scan and shift” making him more likely to exhibit academic issues related to attention such as ADD and ADHD. If there’s any family history of this, you’ll want to be especially careful since he may be genetically vulnerable to these kinds of issues. Check out Dr. Jill Stamm’s book Bright From the Start for more information about this.

    However, many SLPs are including technology for younger and younger children, and I certainly look at these options for children who are going to need an alternative/augmentative way to to communicate, BUT in general, I don’t use tons of technology with toddlers and young preschoolers. Studies also tell us that in young children there’s more neural (brain) activity going on in 1:1 interaction with people – not with DVDs – even when identical information is presented. To me, that’s powerful proof that kids learn best when adults talk to them! If a child does seem to have better attention to technology than real interaction, that’s an even bigger indication that we need to emphasize the social piece with that particular child. Again, I haven’t seen your little boy to know if any of this applies. I just want you to have the information so you can make an informed decision about treatment strategies. Laura

  32. Joy says

    So glad (and not) other mommies have this issue…I was my son’s only parent for his first 8 mos and he’ll say da or dada but not any form of mama…breaks my heart…he’s almost 2 now been waiting that long. He’ll point to me or him when I sing a song about Ethan and mommy…but no speech. Just helps to know I’m not alone

  33. Emili says

    hi laura my son is 12 months old and he started saying mama around 7 months then started saying dada around 8 now thats all he will say ill try and get him to say mama, no no, baba and all he says is dada what should i do???

  34. Sabrina says

    It worked! He calls me Mommy now!!!!! It took him til 22 months and 2 days, (one week ago, at exactly 6:42am, in case you are wondering…) but now he knows my name is Mommy! I am 100% convinced that it was because of this website helping me learn how to help him! Thank you so, very very much.

    After doing all the “mommy” type games and things that you suggested here, it happened out of the blue. I was laying in bed, and Nicholas was wandering around the room while Daddy got dressed. Daddy opened the door and said “Go eat?” and instead of happily running to the kitchen like he normally does, he walked over to the bed, stuck his little face in front of mine, and said “Mommy?”

    I will never, ever, ever forget that moment! (Funny that i can’t for the life of me remember when my typically developing other children first called me Mom.)

  35. Laura says

    SABRINA!! I teared up the day I first read your comment and am doing it again now – hooray for you! What a sweet story! I am going to share this on the podcast in the next few weeks, so thanks for reminding me how powerful this technique is!! Thank you so, so, so much! Laura

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