Toddler Talk: 7 Tips to Increase Language Development

Enrichment Therapies

November 22, 2023

mother and child working on language deveelopment

Originally by: Jaimi Bird M.A., CCC-SLP (2017)

Updated by: Samantha Walker, MA, CF-SLP (2023)

Parents spend the most time with their children, therefore you are your child’s first and most important teacher. Building language and your child’s development don’t stop once you leave the therapy room. Their expanding minds soak up the most language at home, which means your child is always learning! They are like a sponge, absorbing everything around them, so the way you talk to your child matters.

The task of “building language” may seem daunting on top of loads of laundry and chauffeuring kids to various activities. Don’t worry, our specialists are here to help you navigate this language conundrum! The beauty of language is that it is embedded in everything we do already, so let’s unpack:

Create Routines 

Routines are important because they happen daily and a child can anticipate what will come next. They are also a great way to enforce communication and learning.  As I discuss some of the tips for talking to kids below, I challenge you to brainstorm ways you can incorporate these language strategies into your own daily routines. Some common examples of daily routines are getting dressed, eating a meal, bath time, cleaning up toys, brushing teeth, and play routines.

Narrate Frequently

Talk often to your kids and narrate activities as you go. You might feel like you’re closed captioning play time, but children learn through observing. Providing examples of what you mean by matching words to actions is key. 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 they hear you talk so 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. Modeling speech that is not rushed (i.e. pauses between sentences, longer wait time between turns, etc.) also shows the child that they have time to say what they want to and you will wait for them to share their thoughts. 

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has a fabulous resource with activity options broken down by age.

Expand On What They Know 

Add on to what your child says to model language. 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 them new vocabulary. 

When your child talks to you, be present in the moment. Giving intentional undivided attention to your child as they communicate with you lets them know that what they are saying is important. Give your child clear, reinforcing feedback.

Remember Repetition Is Key  

Have you noticed that your kids love to hear you sing their favorite nursery rhymes over and over (does Baby Shark count…)? Or that they want to hear the same book ten times a day?  Kids 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.

Be Patient  

As parents, we anticipate our child’s needs. Instead of immediately giving your child what you know they want, first notice all the ways that your child lets you know what they want:  

  • Do they use eye gaze by looking at you and then at the object they want?  
  • Do they point or reach for a toy or snack that is out of reach?  
  • Do they grab your hand and pull you closer to the desired object? 
  • Does your child cry or fuss to gain your attention?  

Behaviors are your child’s way of communicating with you before they have the words to do so. Take these moments to provide your child with a model of the verbal words that would help them get what they want. 

For example, if your child wants to eat some crackers, you can label the item “cracker” and then hand them a small piece.  As they reach for another bite, wait.  Don’t immediately give them what they are reaching for, pause and give another verbal model, holding the cracker slightly out of reach.  Oftentimes, your child will begin to understand that words will help them get what they want.  

Before long, your child may attempt to say the word.  They 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 them what they want and giving praise and encouragement. You could respond, “Yes! Cracker!”. 

Offer Clear Choices 

If there is flexibility in a 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 them.  It also gives your child the opportunity to gain some independence and increase their confidence in what they 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.

Spend Quality Time Together

Above all, enjoy this time with your little one!  Learning through your daily routines and playing together can be a wonderful experience for both of you. 

Get Support with Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center!

Are you wondering if your child is on track?  Our Ages & Stages resource provides communication milestones from newborn to age five.

If you are concerned about your child’s communication development or would like to learn more, our speech-language pathologists are here to help. Reach out to either of our pediatric speech therapy clinics located in the Des Moines metro and Iowa City area.

740 Community Drive, Unit A

North Liberty, IA 52317


5530 West Pkwy, Suite 300

Johnston, IA 50131


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