In my experience, life as a parent got a whole lot easier once my daughter started talking. Not just saying simple words, but actually speaking in 2-3 word phrases and full sentences. When she could express herself to get her wants and needs met, it made her much more pleasant.
Not only does language make the day-to-day more manageable with a toddler, but it’s amazing to see your child learning new skills every day.
The importance of play in learning to talk
Even way before children learn to speak, they’re taking in so much information through their senses. During play, mealtime, bedtime, and bath time, they’re gaining a better understanding of how their bodies and objects work.
Play is the main occupation of babies and toddlers because when they’re not eating and sleeping, they’re playing.. They learn new skills, concepts, and all about the world around them through play.
While play may seem simple and fun to you, it is one of the best learning experiences for your child. They are learning sizes, colors, shapes, actions, and concepts by simply placing a square cube into a large cup or pushing a button to make an object pop out.
Once they are able to label the objects, actions, and concepts that they are learning, they will have a much better time during play.
As much as independent play is great for learning, guided play with an adult is a great way to get your toddler learning to talk. It is, in fact, the only way to really get their language exploding.
How to Teach Your Toddler to Talk Tips
The best way to get your toddler to talk is by turning everyday activities into learning experiences. As they go about their day-to-day life, there is a wealth of knowledge and teaching opportunities for them to encounter. You just have to be available and willing to do it with them.
Don’t worry if you’re not teaching them all of these things, as a lot of skills occur naturally. However, if there are some things that you want your baby to pick up quicker, there are plenty of ways to help move them along.
Babies and toddlers learn through repetition and consistency. I put together a bunch of tips to get you started. If you want to learn how to teach your toddler to talk, follow these tips.
Simply talk to them
A LOT. You may think that you talk to them enough now, but if your child isn’t speaking yet, maybe you’re not talking to them enough. Use every opportunity to expose them to language, even if they’re not responding back.
During diaper changes, while you’re making dinner, at mealtimes, etc. You can expose them to a ton of new language during everyday activities. Have normal conversations with them, even if you think the vocabulary is too complex.
Dictate what you’re doing
It can get pretty quiet in a house alone with a baby. Since they’re not talking back to us, we’re less inclined to talk to them. However, as I said before, make everyday activities become learning experiences for your child.
Talk about your day and their days as you go about doing things. I’m washing the dishes. You’re playing with the ball. I’m curling my hair. They will love hearing the sound of your voice and hearing the dialogue is a great way for them to start picking up new vocabulary.
Label everything verbally
As your child plays, eats, or just hangs out, say the toys or objects that they are holding, seeing, or hearing. Label everything that you can so they hear the words over and over again.
This is when repetition comes in, as well. If you’re naming the foods they eat or the things they play with, every day, they should start to pick up the vocabulary very soon.
Have them repeat
Once you get in the routine of labeling everything to them, have them repeat it back to you. Start with just one word or even the first sound of the word.
If they say ‘muh’ for milk or ‘buh’ for ball, that’s a great start! This shows that they are still getting the concept that all of these objects have names, but they just can’t make all the sounds correctly yet.
Use what interests them
Determine what your child likes and use that to your advantage. If they obsess over a certain character, music, food, or toy, provide them with plenty of opportunities to see, hear, taste, and play with that item while also talking about it with them.
If your child loves cars and trucks, don’t try to get them to sit down and learn animal noises. Use what works. It will be a lot less of a struggle if they show interest in that activity.
Babies and toddlers love a good rhythm and music, so they’re more likely to pick up words and gestures from a song. My son loves “Baa Baa Black Sheep” and one of his first words is “Baa Baa” just because of the song.
Try singing simple kids songs with gestures, like The Wheels on the Bus, Itsy Bitsy Spider, and Twinkle Twinkle. If they begin to imitate the movements and gestures that go along with the song, words should follow.
Making music may also help to get them singing songs. You can use maracas, drums, and xylephones to get your little one making sounds and noises as well.
Toys that provide the use of imagination are the best for little ones. Using stacking cups, Mega Blocks, Shape Sorters, and pretend play toys are a few great items that encourage creativity and exploration. These are far better than electronic games that do all the work for them.
Read more about why unstructured play is so beneficial to young children.
An expectant pause is allowing some time to pass for your child to give you a response. As children are learning to talk, their processing speed will be a lot slower than ours.
If you’re asking them to repeat a sound, word, or object or asking them a question, expect that they may need extra time.Therefore, give them a few seconds to respond before you just decide to give them the answer or move on to the next word.
As stated above, play is great for toddlers to learn new language and skills, however, they shouldn’t always be left to play independently. Guided play simply means that you sit with them while they play and actually guide their actions while also labeling everything that they are doing.
So while they’re playing with a shape sorter, talk to them about the objects and what they are doing: “This is a square. This is a circle. The circle goes in. The square drops down.” If they’re coloring, use language like, “that is a crayon. The crayon is blue. You’re coloring. Draw a circle. Hold the crayon in your hand.”
Use this time to ask questions (“what animal is this?”), give commands “(“put the grapes in the shopping cart”), or get them to repeat (“This is a block. Say block.”)
All of this extra language is so helpful for them to hear, rather than playing quietly by themselves.
Don’t respond to gestures as a form of language
Using grunts, pointing, signs, or signaling is still considered expressive language. The child is still communicating in a way to get you to understand their wants and needs.
Therefore, early on, it is ok to let your child make gestures to communicate. However, if you really want them to start talking, you need to stop fulfilling their requests from signals. Wait until they say a word or at least, make a sound (first syllable) similar to the word, in order to get what they want.
They won’t be able to say, Can I have the ball, please? But if they’re pointing at the ball, wait until they say ball or buh before handing it over.
If you’re still just struggling to get your child to make sounds and one-syllable words, don’t expect them to say large words. Even an attempt to say the first sound of a word is a great start!
Speak with excitement
Toddlers really love seeing their parents get excited. They’ll have an easier time responding and imitating when you’re showing lots of excitement in your expressions and voice. So be sure to use overly exaggerated gestures, facial expressions, and sounds.
Let out the silliness and craziness with your child. They will love playing fun games with you! So think of some wild chase you have to go on to find a goose, the alligator that might get you if you walk too slow, or even just a wild dance party. Language happens when children are really engaged and entertained.
Speak slowly, but not baby talk
The more you speak using regular adult language instead of baby talk, the easier it will be for your child to pick up this language too. Your toddler should be well past the dadada and bababa stages, so try not to use these babblings to get your child to talk.
Of course they may use some of these sounds to indicate an object like baba for bottle or ma for milk, but if you hear them saying the babbles, just repeat the real word back to them.
Also, make sure you’re slowing down your speech when you are talking to them. As I said before, their processing speed is much slower than ours at this point.
This means that it takes their little brains longer to hear, understand, and respond when you speak. If you slow down both your speech, as well as your expectations of their response time, you may notice an improved rate of language.
Books are such a wonderful tool to get your child to learn language, concepts, and form a love of reading. As there are so many benefits of reading to your child early on, developing new vocabulary is one of the most important ones.
As you read to your child, point out objects and pictures in the book. Depending on how far along your child is in their language development, you can say the word a couple of times yourself and have them repeat it back to you, have them point to a picture while attempting to say the sound, ask them what the picture is, or what the action is that is happening.
If you use television or an iPad to keep your child occupied, replace the screen with books. The more your child gets used to looking at books, the more excited he or she will get for reading.
Limit pacifier use
Plugging up a child’s mouth with a pacifier throughout the day can be detrimental to them learning to speak. Pacifiers or thumb sucking will inhibit them to talk or use their mouths to make sounds and words. Only use the pacifier during bedtime, if necessary.
Limit screen time
While you may think that educational television shows and iPad games would be helping your child learn how to talk, that’s not the case. While there are some cognitive concepts that your child can learn from Sesame Street or Bubble Guppies, they’re not learning language at all.
Watching television and using an iPad are completely passive activities. This means that your child doesn’t have to do anything besides sit there.
The best way for them to learn language is to participate in active play, not passive. They need to speak reciprocally to another human being and not to a television.
The Acadamy of American Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under 18 months old avoid screen time completely. Children 18-24 months should only have screen time if it’s an educationally-based program and a caregiver is close by to guide learning and understanding. 2-5 Year olds should be limited to 1 hour per day of educationally-based programs.
Of course screen time can be necessary at times where you need a little peace and quiet, but I wouldn’t suggest putting your child in front of the tv for an extended period of time.
If you do have your child watching tv or playing an iPad game, use it as an interactive experience instead of passive time. For example, while they’re watching the show, ask them questions about it. Tell them to point out the characters or objects. Dictate what is happening or what you see.
Movement can be a great way to get your child to talk. The excitement of jumping, running, or bouncing may make them want to scream for joy.
This activity is especially good for those sensory seekers. Giving them opportunities to jump on a trampoline, bounce on a large therapy ball, or run through an obstacle course, can increase language. Try having them sing a song while jumping, make animal noises as they run, or name and point to a body part as they bounce.
Children love seeing others their age doing the same things as them. Putting your child in a setting where they can learn and grow from their peers is an excellent way to get them learning how to talk.
Whether it’s a daycare setting, playgroup, mommy-and-me class, or meet up with friends and family, having other kids around makes a big difference with language.
Use Expansion Language
Expanding on your child’s language will help them to gain new vocabulary. Try this: When your child says a word or phrase, always expand on that thought for them.
Parent: “You want more milk.”
Parent: “You want me to pick you up”
Adding to their thoughts will help them understand the full phrases that should be stated. Also, you may think your child is too young to pick up full sentences, but expansion language should be used at any age. It will help them to understand what words go together and how to expand on each word.
Praise and Motivation
Celebrating every little accomplishment makes your child feel good. In turn, this will be very motivating for him to continue to do the things that get you excited.
So go over the top with excitement for each little sound or word. You will definitely see how it increases their language each time.
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Of course, you can have all the toys in the world, but if you aren’t consistent about helping your child learn how to talk, they won’t pick it up quickly. Use these tips and activities multiple times a day and you will see a drastic development of language.