Toddler Talk: 7 Tips to Increase Language Development

Enrichment Therapies

October 20, 2017

Toddler Talk: 7 Tips to Increase Language Development

By Jaimi Bird, M.A., CCC-SLP

Your toddler is always learning! They are like a sponge, absorbing everything around them.  As a mom and speech pathologist, I want to share a few tips to help your little one build language.  The way you talk to your child matters. Parents are their child’s first and most important teachers. So let’s talk about some simple ways to incorporate language into your day.

Routines are important because they happen daily and a child can anticipate what will come next. Routines are a great way to enforce communication and learning.  As I discuss some of the tips for talking to toddlers below, I want you to be thinking about how you can incorporate these language strategies into your daily routine! Some common examples of daily routines are: getting dressed, eating a meal, bath time, cleaning up toys, brushing teeth, and play routines.

Avoid Baby Talk. Speak normally! Your child is learning from you!  Model the language you want your child to learn and use.  It is beneficial to use short complete sentences and slow down the rate of your speech to encourage comprehension.

Narrate. Talk often to your toddler, narrate your activity as you go. It is great for a child to see what you mean by matching your words to your actions.  Children learn through observing.  For example, if you are setting the table before a meal, you might say “Here is a plate. Let’s put it on the table.” As you continue through your daily routines continue to verbalize what you are doing. Your child is learning each time she hears your talk.

Expanding. When your child talks to you, be present in the moment.  Look at them, let them know that what they are saying is important.  Give your child clear, reinforcing feedback.  If your child says, “car”, you could respond, “yes that is your car”.  Take it one step further by expanding on what your child says by adding one or two words.  When your child says, “ball” you can expand their utterance by saying “yes, red ball”.  Now you are not only reinforcing the language they are using, you are also giving him new vocabulary. 

Repetition is key.  Have you noticed that your toddler loves to hear you sing favorite nursery rhymes over and over?  Or that he wants to hear the same book ten times a day?  Toddlers learn by repetition.  Stories and songs with repeated phrases are a wonderful way to expand your child’s vocabulary.  Each time you sing or read the story your child is learning more words.  You will begin to hear your child join in the song or fill in the end of a phrase in a familiar story.  Download this list of books I recommend. They all have a repetitive line that will be great for language building.

Wait time.  As parents, we anticipate our child’s needs. Instead of immediately giving your child what your know they want, first notice all the ways that your child lets you know what she wants.  Does she use eye gaze by looking at you and then at the object she wants?  Does she point or reach for a toy or snack that is out of reach?  Does she grab your hand and pull you closer to her desired object? Does your child cry or fuss to gain your attention?  She is communicating with you! Take these moments to provide your child with a model of the verbal words that would help her get what she wants. For example, if your child wants to eat some crackers, you can label the item “cracker” and then hand her a small piece.  As she reaches for another bite, wait.  Don’t immediately give her what she is reaching for, pause and give another verbal model, holding the cracker slightly out of reach.  Your child will begin to understand that words will help her get what she wants.  Before long, your child will attempt to say the word.  She may say “ca” or even “ta-ta”, it may not sound exactly like the word you are saying, but when you hear an attempt at speech, honor it by giving her what she wants and give praise and encouragement. You could respond, “yes! cracker!”. 

Requesting Choices. At times that there is flexibility in the routine, give a clear choice between two options.  You could hold up the two options and say, “It’s time to clean up, would you like to get the blocks or the books?”  This provides a connection between your words and the objects you are showing him.  It also gives your child the opportunity to gain some independence and increase their confidence in what he can do.  Providing choices can also increase your child’s vocabulary. For example, you might say, “It’s snack time would you like a banana or blueberries” while showing your child the two choices.  This will give your child a connection between the object that you are talking about and the word that is being said.

Enjoy this time with your little one!  Learning through your daily routines and playing together will be a wonderful experience for both of you.

Are you wondering if your child is on track?  Here are communication milestones for two-year-olds. Here are communication milestones for three-year-oldsHere are communication milestones for four-year-oldsIf you are concerned about your child’s communication development or would like to learn more, you can reach a speech-language pathologist at Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center.

Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center has locations in the Iowa City, IA area and Des Moines, IA area. We provide individual speech-language therapy and tutoring as well as offering small group academic programs.  At Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center our passion is to help kids achieve effective communication skills and gain academic success.  Contact us for more information on how we can help your child succeed.

740 Community Drive, Unit A

North Liberty, IA 52317


5530 West Pkwy, Suite 300

Johnston, IA 50131


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