Help Your Toddler Learn To Talk
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As a mom and as a speech-language pathologist, toddlerhood is one of my favorite stages of development! So much growth takes place in a child’s personality, ability to express himself, and understanding of and interaction with the world. And it all happens so quickly! My youngest is 29 months old, and there are many days when my husband and I marvel at something our son has said, realizing that even a week before he wouldn’t have had the skills to be able to put together the same sentence.
What Can You Do To Promote Your Toddler’s Speech and Language Development?
This is a common question that both new and experienced parents often ask, so I have put together a list of things you can do as a parent to support your child’s speech and language learning.
1. Read to your child.
Reading to your child is so nourishing for his or her developing brain! Reading a variety of books with pictures exposes your child to diverse language and new vocabulary. After you read a page, you can stray from the “script” and just talk about what is in the pictures and what is happening, pointing as you go. Reading the same books over and over again allows your child the opportunity to actively participate by reciting parts along with you once they become very familiar with the book. Look for books with a lot of repetition, such as Brown Bear, Brown Bear, Dear Zoo, and Goodnight Moon, but also know that reading anything to your child is beneficial!
2. Model correct speech and language for your child.
It is important for your child to have an accurate model of how to say words and sounds, and the correct way to form sentences. Do not mispronounce words in imitation of your child. For example, if your child says “nana” for “banana,” do not adopt the word “nana” as your new name for the food.
3. Expand on what your child says.
When your child is learning to talk, he or she will say single words before beginning to put words together into phrases and sentences. When your young toddler excitedly points to an airplane in the sky, saying, “Ahpane!”, respond with something like, ” I see that airplane! That airplane is flying way up high in the sky! Wow!” By taking their short word or phrase and using it in longer sentences, you are providing a model of how to use the word in conversation. You will also be teaching your child about other related “action words” and “describing words” at the same time. In the airplane example, your child is learning words like “flying”, “high”, and “sky” that are related to “airplane.”
4. Keep them unplugged.
Little kids who are learning language have absolutely no need for electronics. There is a ton of research demonstrating that television can detrimentally affect kids younger than two years of age in a variety of ways (vision, attention, language, social skills, to name a few). Television, as well as computers, tablets, phones, and even electronic toys, are no substitute for human interaction and communication. Often when kids are allowed access to screens, it becomes a slippery slope and it ends up replacing opportunities for quality communication. If your child is older than two and you choose to introduce some screen time, make sure to keep television watching to under 60 minutes a day, make it quality programming such as Sesame Street, and watch the show together, interacting and talking throughout.
5. Do not laugh at or belittle your child’s speech and do not allow others to.
If this one sounds very obvious and you are offended at the suggestion that you would ever do this, then I will happily tell you to skip to number 6. Unfortunately, a lot of adults don’t appreciate the effect that negative comments, mocking, or teasing can have on a young child who is perhaps struggling with speech and/or language development or who is simply shy or reluctant to talk. Be your child’s advocate, always.
6. Sing songs and “fingerplays” with your child.
Language involves more than making the correct sounds and putting the words together. Another aspect of language is “prosody,” or the rhythm, stress patterns, vocal inflection, and pausing used when speaking. Prosody plays an important role in our ability to easily understand a person’s speech. When singing or reciting rhymes, this aspect of speech is over-exaggerated, which is perfect for a toddler who is learning how it all works. When you add in finger/hand motions, like in “Itsy Bitsy Spider” or “Where is Thumbkin?”, your toddler will be able to participate in a fun way even before they are able to sing along.
7. Keep the focus on successful communication, not on “saying it right.”
Your child is going through a major transformation, from a baby who uses crying and gesture to communicate to a child who is able to use words. Keep this in perspective, and realize that the first goal should be effective communication, whatever that looks like. If your child says “Me wun tees” (I want cheese), you can model the sentence correctly for him as you get the cheese for him. Praise him for using words to ask for what he wants. When parents insist that their child say something the “right way” before giving them what they need/want, they are creating a negative, frustrating situation unnecessarily.
8. Provide open-ended toys to encourage talking.
Toys like blocks, dolls, balls, and toy cars can be used in a million different ways by you and your toddler. This kind of play is important for developing vocabulary and language skills. Here is a quick list of some age-appropriate concepts and vocabulary you can work into your play to help your child learn:
- numbers & counting
- emotions/feelings (examples: happy, sad, excited, scared)
- comparison words (examples: bigger, fastest, more, shorter)
- describing words (examples: sharp, rough, smooth, slimy)
- opposites (examples: big/small, tall/short, same/different)
- position words (examples: in, out, under, behind)
9. Talk to your child about your environment wherever you go.
This is something that is excellent to do from the time your child is born, but it is a good reminder at any age. Narrate your life to your child. Ask them questions. Point out details of things. Explain what is happening. Talk about where you’re headed in the car. Ask his opinion on things. A toddler’s brain is a sponge, so aim to saturate it with language.
10. Keep it positive.
Just as in any aspect of raising a child, you want them to feel good about themselves. A positive self-image will help your child become a confident and capable person. So do what you can to make your child’s attempts at talking a positive overall experience so that he or she wants to do more of it!
If communicating with your 2-3 year old is extremely difficult or becoming a major source of stress or negativity in your home, it is time to ask a professional for advice.
11. Ask a professional if you have concerns.
While there is a wide range of what is “normal” at this stage, it is important to talk to your pediatrician or consult a speech-language pathologist in your area if you have any concerns about your child’s speech and language development.
What is a Speech-Language Pathologist?
A speech-language pathologist, or SLP, is someone who has a master’s level graduate degree in speech and language pathology and who holds the required national and state certifications to evaluate, diagnose, and treat speech and language disorders. The credentials you should check for are M.S., M.A., or Ph.D. and CCC-SLP.
I hope you’ve found this article helpful! Comment below if you have a related topic you’d like to hear more about.