Helping Your Toddler Learn to Communicate

The first few years of your child’s life are a critical time in their language development. Research strongly supports that face-to-face time with caregivers and loved ones is one of the most powerful tool in language development. So how can parents help their toddlers learn to communicate? Here are 10 activities to encourage speech and language skills in toddlers.

10 Activities to Build Speech & Language Skills in Toddlers

1. Floor time. Come down to your child’s level play face-to-face. By playing at eye-level, your child will model your facial expressions, eye contact, and oral postures as you make various speech playing with toddler

2. Describe. Children learn language by being hearing it. Surround your child with a language-rich environment by describing what you are seeing or doing. Label nearby objects, or talking about what is happening around you. Use clear and simple language (e.g. “Mommy is washing your hands!” or “I see a red ball!”).

3. Take turns. Language is a back-and-forth system which requires the ability to take turns. Help your child learn about turn-taking through activities that promote reciprocal interactions. You might pass a ball back-and-forth, share a toy, or play a turn-taking game. For more ideas, visit Turn Taking and Language Development.

4. Ask questions. The ability to answer questions is an important skill in language development. Practice this skill by asking your child questions throughout the day. You might start with yes/no questions, and then ask “what”, “who” or “where” questions. Try to avoid “question overload” which may feel like a “quiz” or overwhelming to your child. Instead, take advantage of natural opportunities to ask questions throughout the day. For example, when reading a book, you might say “Bear is hiding! Who is hiding?”.

5. Use gestures. The use of gestures to communicate is a critical step in language development. Language is a symbol system, filled with both verbal and nonverbal symbols that represent our thoughts and ideas. Help your child use gestures by modeling pointing to request objects, waving “bye bye”, blowing kisses, or clapping. You can also practice gestures through finger play and singing (e.g. pat-a-cake, Itsy Bitsy Spider, Wheels on the Bus).

6. Make requests. Encourage your child to intentionally communicate by asking for desired objects. Instead of predicting your child’s needs, guide them to ask for things, whether by pointing, making a word approximation, reaching, or vocalizing. You can also try presenting two choices to your child (e.g. “Do you want bear, or ball?”) to help them verbalize which one they want.

7. Say no. In addition to telling you want they want, it’s also important for your child to tell you what they don’t want. Help your child say “no” by modeling for them. For example, if you can tell your child doesn’t want to play with a ball, model the words “No. No ball” while shaking your head back and forth, and remove the ball.

8. Read. Enjoy one-on-one time with your child while reading books. Books are an excellent way to build language skills in children, including: listening comprehension, sentence formulation, vocabulary development, inferencing, problem solving, narrative language skills, and social emotional development. For more ideas, visit Encouraging Language Development When Reading to Your Toddler.

9. Sing. Songs are extremely beneficial to language development. Through songs, children learn language patterns, distinguish speech sounds, learn gestures, and engage in interactions with others.

10. Play. For developing children, play is the means by which children learn. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics “Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development.” Playing with your child provides countless opportunities to hear and use language while spending one-on-one time with loved ones.

It’s important to remember that every child develops at their own pace, with some skills progressing faster or slower than others. Some child may need additional support to help foster their speech and language development. Research has well-documented that intervening early on is most effective in remediating speech and language difficulties. If you have concerns regarding your child’s speech and language, it’s important to schedule a speech-language evaluation with a licensed speech-language pathologist right away. For more information or to schedule an evaluation, contact our Solutions Center to speak with a Family Child Advocate.

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