The answer to this question, as with many, depends on the age of the child in question.
With toddlers, you can encourage them to speak by giving them lots of one to one attention without a lot of distractions like music or TV. Playing games that involve words like singing action songs, following the leader or talking through sequencing actions (i.e. "first we put the square in the square hole, then we put the star in the star hole" etc...) can increase your child's vocabulary. If he or she knows a lot of words but doesn't tend to use them, you need to teach him or her when and how language is used. Offering the child choices that require speech and waiting for them to respond will encourage articulation (i.e. what do you want for lunch?). It's often easier to ask yes or no questions or to hold out options and have them gesture to the one they want but that doesn't teach them that speech is necessary for communicating what they want. Of course, you don't want to create a situation where the child must absolutely talk in order to get what he or she needs, forcing him or her to talk will only frustrate you both and could result in an increased reluctance to talk, but by giving them situations in which they can talk you will encourage the use of language and reinforce it by giving the child what he/she wants. Conversing with your child and waiting for an answer will make sure you give him or her ample opportunity to talk to you. Role modelling by conversing over dinner and including your child in the conversation can also encourage more spontaneous speech.
If you are concerned about your toddler's lack of speech you should consult your paediatrician or early years screening programs in your community. Everyone learns to speak at their own pace but if you have a distinct trouble understanding your child, if he or she gets unduly frustrated by his or her inability to communicate, or you do not see improvement over time, you probably want to seek a professional assessment.
For older children who know how to speak but choose not too, this issue can be much more serious. Selective mutism can be how some children cope with trauma or stress and if this is a possibility, you should seek professional help right away. Children who are shy or quiet can be encouraged to speak more by increasing their self-esteem, offering them lots of attention and support and showing them, through your both your own words and your actions, that you would like to hear what they have to say. At the same time, however, it is especially important not to pressure them or increase their levels of stress. Giving them opportunities to speak is helpful but it is more important that they feel comfortable, accepted and supported whether they speak a great deal or not.
At any age, if you feel your child is abnormally quiet, reluctant to speak or has difficulty speaking, it's important to seek professional help. Linguistic communication is an important component of child development, not to mention adult life, and if your child is struggling, you need to know why.
Prudence dear 20:10, November 20, 2009 (UTC)