Is your child struggling to communicate and having meltdowns? Does your child have a few “mastered” words but only says them occasionally? Are you surrounded by lots of whining? Increased frustration because they can’t communicate effectively? Are you finding yourself discouraged because you are unable to understand what they’re needing or wanting?
We’ve put together a few helpful tips with practical examples to help your little one communicate their wants and needs. It is our hope that the tips you’ll learn here will help your little one grow! Let’s get talking!!
How can you teach your toddler to talk?
The Expectant Pause
This can be used at any time by anyone! When it’s time for your tot to say a word that you know he/she knows and can say, practice the expectant pause! Here’s an example…
Let’s start with a game of “READY, SET, GO”… set up a play area with your child using a toy that can “go” (this can be a car, a ball, etc.). Once you’ve established the game and are excitedly modeling “Ready, Set, GO!!!”; you can begin to leave off the word “go” and just say “ready, set, . . .” Wait a few seconds with an excited, expectant look to see if they will say “GO!!” If there’s no response, simply say it right before you do the action. Try this several times until they catch on! Try this on the slide or swing outside! You can even target this tip during a fun game of bouncing on your lap or running through the yard. Place your toddler on your lap and bounce her up and down then stop. With an excited tone say “Ready…. Set…. GO!” and bounce like crazy. Try it again but, this time insert the expectant pause! Here you can use your body language to “look” like you understand what your child is going to say. You might try to lean forward a bit with an open mouth and wide eyes to create interest and motivation for your little one to communicate.
Practicing the expectant pause can be uncomfortable for us as adults; however, this extra processing time is needed for our little ones to understand the information that they take in. They’re learning and hearing things at a rapid rate and their brains need time to process what they’ve just heard. Don’t be afraid to wait a bit for a response to give them time process!
The expectant pause can be used in a variety of activities. Let’s dive into another tip.
Stopping Short During a Familiar Song
This is a great one to try in the car! Here’s an example…
Let’s try with “Old McDonald”, don’t forget to have fun! Toddlers love saying “OH” and it’s an easy sound to make. Here we will target the “OH” in the song. Sing “E I E I O” several times then encourage your little one to say it.
“Old McDonald had a farm, E I E I…. (Wait for the “OH”)
And on his farm, he had a PIG! E I E I ….. (Wait for the “OH”)
With an OINK OINK here and an OINK OINK there
Here an OINK There an OINK
Everywhere an OINK OINK
Old McDonald had a farm E I E I…. (Wait for the “OH”)
Once your toddler gets the hang of this part you can start getting them to fill in the animal noises. Find your inner rock star and start singing with your little ones but don’t forget to let them fill in the blanks! This is a fun way to add verbal communication in various situations and leads us to our next tip… Getting Silly!
Get Silly with your toddler
Reluctant talkers sometimes need practice making sounds with their mouths before they are able to form actual words. Being silly is a great way to practice this and encourage your tot to use their mouths to make silly noises! Afterall, this is what childhood is all about! Don’t be afraid to get silly and have fun with your toddler! Here’s a few examples of opportunities to get silly with your toddler:
Reading! Making time to read to your child can be an invaluable gift to give them. Sometimes as busy parents, we don’t have a ton of time to sit and READ all the words on a page. That’s ok! Talking about the pictures can be just as fun! Making silly noises when pointing to the pictures in a story book keeps their attention and promotes speech sound development. For instance, let’s say there’s a picture of a snake in the book, you can make the “SSSSS” sound while pointing to the picture. Then you can add some fun by pretending to scare each other by making the snake sound. This activity makes for great memories and connection with your toddler.
Playing cars! Little ones LOVE to get big reactions from adults. Try playing cars and making silly sounds like “CRAAAAASH”, “BEEP BEEEEEP” “HONK HONK” and “VROOOOOOM”. Focusing on vowel sounds is an easy way to increase verbal productions during play.
It’s time to step out of your comfort zone and start getting silly with your toddler! You’ll be amazed at the fun you’ll both have while making memories and building communication.
Respond to Any Attempts to Vocalize
We’re not looking for perfection; just connection! Kids are people pleasers by nature, so when they attempt to vocalize and you respond positively, they’re more likely to continue. It is supper important to keep your child’s confidence high, especially if you want them to keep trying! It doesn’t have to sound perfect or be an actual word. Word approximations can be just as meaningful and communicative. If they say “o” for “go”, or “car” for “truck”, validate their attempt and model the correction. Sometimes you can say “That’s right! Let’s GO!” or “Yes! It’s like a car, but it’s called a truck!”. Keep things positive by adding the phrase “Good try!” in response to their language attempts. This way they are getting praised for putting forth the effort even though they may not have been accurate.
Everyone wants to be heard, validating your child’s attempts to communicate will not only motivate them to speak more but will also build self-confidence and increase the likelihood for carryover with other communication partners.
Stop Asking Questions!
This can be a tough habit to break! It’s natural to ask questions and can be appropriate at times, but this can also be the source of frustration for little ones who are struggling to communicate. We should switch our focus to having a conversation rather than asking questions. Try to focus on authentic communication that builds confidence within your child. Prompt them to speak in an empowering way. Use the phrase “You can say ____” rather than asking a question. Here’s what that might look like…
Let’s say your little one wants some milk. Say “You want milk? You can say … milk”. This seems very simple but teaching them that they can say words is an important step to building expressive communication.
Sometimes we just can’t help but ask questions, it’s in our nature! If you find yourself asking questions during play, try to change the types of questions you ask. Rather than asking “yes or no” questions, you can ask more open-ended questions. These types of questions leave more room for language. These might be something like, “What’s next?” or “Now what?”. Your tot might not answer with a verbal response, and that’s ok! A gesture can be just as meaningful. That leads us to our next tip…
Having an alternate means of communicating can help decrease the amount of frustration for both the speaker and the listener. Using sign language is a way to help your little one communicate while laying a foundation for overall language development. Lots of parents are reluctant to use sign language because they’re worried that their child will only sign rather than produce words.
I like to use this analogy to help parents understand this teaching tool. Sign language is to learning-to-speak as training wheels are to learning how to ride a bike. Once a child learns to ride on two wheels, they never look back or desire to ride with training wheels again. The same can be said for teaching your child simple signs to use in everyday situations. Once they begin to verbally produce these words, the signs will fade away into the background. They will build confidence and will no longer rely on the gesture to communicate.
A few of the common signs I like to teach parents to use first are “more”, “all done”, “help” and “go”. These are words (or signs) that can be used in many situations to mean lots of things. Often, these signs are the key that unlocks the door to verbal communication.
READ, READ, READ!
Get cozy and READ! Try to set aside a few minutes each day to take the time to read with your little one. Establishing this routine will have lasting effects on your child far beyond their toddler years. As stated earlier, looking at picture books and discussing the content is a great way to use books. Research has shown that the more words a child hears from an actual live person (not the TV), the easier they will acquire speech. Reading to your toddler is a great way to expose them to new words that they may or may not be familiar with. Repetition builds language – so read their favorite books over and over. Bring them to your local library to pick a book independently. Set aside some time each day and find a special place at home to snuggle a read to your child.
As adults, we learn by imitating and our children do too! Imitation is a great tool for late talkers to learn to use words to communicate. First, we like to target imitation of actions and then move to words or sounds (sometimes this happens simultaneously). Getting your toddler to imitate big motor movements is a great place to start. Playing a game of “hands up” is fun and engaging. It works on imitating as well as social skills. Simply get your child attention and raise your hands up while saying in an excited voice “hands up”. You can even add to the excitement by pretending to tickle them. Continue to do this several times until your little one begins to imitate you. Once your toddler has mastered imitating big motor movements you can begin to add sounds and eventually single words.
Don’t get discouraged if your little one doesn’t start jabbering words right away on their own. Imitating words is often “good enough” for a while and helps to build confidence and desire within themselves to communicate.
We understand that each child is unique and develops at their own pace; however, there are general guidelines for when we expect children to reach certain milestones. These guidelines help to determine if a child could benefit from intervention. Early intervention is key! The quicker we intervene when a problem arises, the faster you will likely see results. These are a few easy tips to encourage your child to communicate. If all of this sounds intimidating and you want help incorporating these tips into your daily routine, let us know, we’d be glad to help!
Our trained Speech-Language Pathologists have years of experience helping families communicate. We’d love to help yours too!
When to seek help from a Speech – Language Pathologist?
- 1 – 2 years old: Children should be using many words, using various sounds in words such as p, b, m, h, and w, pointing to body parts, following simple directions, and identifying familiar people.
- 2 – 3 years old: At this age, toddlers should be putting multiple words together to ask for things or comment. They should be producing sounds like k. g. t. d. and f. and asking and answering simple questions.