Teaching Toddlers to Talk More

Every once in awhile, a dear friend will ask me about their toddler. Is she talking enough? How many words should my son be saying? Should I be worried? I love to be able to offer some general advice. In general, if a parent is concerned, it is helpful for the parent to talk to the child’s pediatrician. Depending on insurance, he/she might be able to contact a speech and language clinic to schedule a screening or evaluation. Does this sound drastic? Not to me.

Some parents say, “My child is a late talker. He’ll grow out of it.” Some do, but some don’t. Those who don’t “grow out of it” can get really behind. That leads to later difficulties with academic success (reading and writing) and friendships. I am not the type of parent who will say, “Let’s wait and see” for a child’s speech and language development. A little help in the right direction at the right time in development works wonders! Children can become frustrated, angry, and confused when they cannot communicate their ideas. Our social interactions, and happiness, are very dependent upon our ability to use words and communicate effectively.

If your 18-24 month old child seems to be quieter than other children his/her age, please read below for some strategies that you can use today to help teach him/her new words. This advice would be for a child who has maybe 10-20 spoken words. You can use these strategies for slightly older and younger children, too. These strategies are helpful for even the first 100-200 words your child learns.

 1) Label, label, label. Show her common objects (e.g., toys, foods, vehicles) and people. Repeat the one word several times (e.g., ball) while she is looking at it or playing with it. Ask her to repeat the word (e.g., “Say, ball.”). As longs as she tries to repeat the word, even if it’s just “buh” or “ah,” give her lots of praise (“Yes! Ball! Yay, you said, “Ball!). Big smiles go a long ways for praise. Perfect articulation is not the focus at this stage; just getting most of the sounds out for a word is a great start.
2) Look at books, particularly books that have pictures of object (e.g., My Word Book). Here are a few strategies to help teach words while reading with a child.

  • Ask him to point to the pictures you name. For example, you could say,”Point to the shoe.” or “Where is the shoe?” Give lots of praise. If he is wrong, just say, “Here it is,” and you point to the picture.
  • Once you know he knows how to identify the pictures on the page, then you can point to a picture, and ask him to say it (ask, “What is this?”). If he doesn’t know, tell him, (e.g., “Bear. That is a bear. Say, ‘bear.’ Good. You have a teddy bear.”).
  • When reading a book that has a story (e.g., Goodnight Moon), you can choose to either read all of the words, or just look at the pictures and label the names of items in the pictures (e.g., mittens, shoes, socks, kittens, bed, clock, fireplace, stars, curtains, toy house, etc.).

3. Ask her to repeat a word while eating. Names of food are often easier for a child to learn because she eats food multiple times per day, and it’s a rewarding experience to eat food. but only ask for one word. Keep it simple. For example, when she is done eating a raspberry, and you know she wants more, ask her to say, “more.” If she says, “more” or “mo” (close enough to the word more), then immediately give him the raspberry. Again, perfect articulation is not the goal; the goal is to help her say more words.

4) While playing with him (e.g., blocks, cars, etc.), pretend you are an MC saying what she is doing.Julia put the block on top. Making a tower. Big tower. Kaboom. Bye bye tower. Julia is making a new tower. Block went on top.” This is a way to help children become more aware of the power of verbs. Notice in this method, you are not asking her to say or do anything. You’re just requiring her to play and listen. Doing this for just 5-minutes is great.

If you consistently apply the above listed strategies during the daytime, your child should start to gain more words. If you are concerned, you can go to a speech pathologist for a screening or evaluation. If you need ideas for where to go, in general, please ask in the comments for advice for affordable options; I probably don’t know your particular region of the country or world, but I can make suggestions on where to look for services.

This is a hard subject, but I think I need to say it. If it seems clear that you should bring your child to a speech pathologist, this is for you. In the homeschooling community, some parents are scared of seeing any specialist. Please, don’t be. There is nothing to fear or be embarrassed about. It is incredibly common to have a speech delay, and whether you homeschool or not, it happens. It is not your fault if your child has a speech delay. And it’s entirely possible your child is right on track with speech and language development and there is nothing you need to do! Plus, speech pathologists are some of the nicest, kindest people. They are very good listeners and they love kids. Really. If your child qualifies for therapy, your child will actually have fun learning to speak; speech pathologists come up with lots of fun games and activities to do with children.

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I hope the strategies listed above will help you as you talk with your precious child during the day. The best, short summary of the advice above is to:

  1. Frequently say the names of common objects you see.
  2. Ask your child to repeat the name of the object that you say.

Teaching your child new words will be a lot of fun! It’s a great way to build a bond with your child and have a shared activity. You are giving your child the gift of words!

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