So your toddler isn’t talking quite as much as your neighbor’s toddler or as much as her older sisters’ did at her age. Now what?
Let me start by making something super clear: these tips are in no way a replacement for a full speech/language evaluation or speech therapy. Ask your pediatrician if your child’s speech/language development is a concern and they’ll guide you.
That being said, you’re the one who’s with your child the most, so you’re uniquely suited to have the greatest impact on your child’s language development.
Toddlers learn by experiencing the world around them. They learn by watching, listening, touching and exploring. What we’re going to do is give words to the new things they’re learning every day.
First, let’s start with self-talk. Self-talk is when you narrate what you’re doing alongside your toddler. That looks like:
- ‘I’m making supper! I put the chicken in the oven, hot hot hot!’
- ‘Bathtime! Turn the bath on, here’s the water! Hi, water!’
- ‘I want a coffee! I’m making coffee for Mommy. Yummy coffee!’
- ‘Let’s build a tower! I’m putting the blocks on top. More and more and more!’
Will you feel a little strange? Possibly. But to your toddler, who sees you do these actions every single day, you’re providing something invaluable: words to accompany what he watches you do.
Next, and equally important, parallel-talk. In parallel-talk, you narrate what your child is doing, using easy, child-friendly language, and lots of repetition. Think:
- ‘You’re eating breakfast! Eat, eat, eat your breakfast!’
- ‘You’re throwing the ball. Throw! Yay! You can throw the ball.’
- ‘You are going for a nap. You’re laying on your pillow! Good night!’
- ‘You want water! Water is for drinking. Gulp, gulp, gulp!’
These are his life experiences, and you’re providing words to attach to them. Do you see all these exclamation points? Language is fun! Use a fun and encouraging tone of voice.
And finally, my personal favorite, expansion. In expansion, you become the speech therapist by adding one single thought to expand on what your child says independently.
- Child says, ‘milk.’ You say, ‘You want milk! Milk is cold!’
- Child says, ‘doggie!’ You say, ‘The dog is outside! Woof, woof, doggie!’
- Child says, ‘no!’ You say, ‘You said no! You don’t want any more!’
- Child says, ‘more.’ You say, ‘More yogurt! You want more yogurt!’
Speaking in that child-friendly language will give your toddler a model: what you expect that they will learn to do! That’s not to say you’re trying to get them to repeat after you, nothing makes language less fun than hearing Mom say, ‘Say ‘I want more please!’’ It’s just to give them a model of what the next level of language looks like and what they’ll eventually achieve.
Are you self-talking, parallel-talking, and expanding all day long? No! Choose a few minutes of calm one-on-one time when you can to practice these skills and watch your child’s language explode. And most importantly, this should be fun. The ideal way to learn language is in a no-pressure environment where everyone has a voice and your toddler’s voice is respected too.