4 expert ways to boost your toddler’s language skills

A speech-language pathologist dishes on the best ways to get your toddler talking.

4 expert ways to boost your toddler’s language skills

As a speech-language pathologist, I often hear the question, “How can I help my toddler to talk?”

The short is answer is simple: Talk to your child!

This recommendation is rooted in reams of research on speech-language pathology and allied disciplines.

Ironically, the simplicity of this answer is exactly the problem for many parents. This short adage may leave you frustrated and wanting more.

How do I talk to my child? What are some fun toddler activities that can promote verbal interaction, and therefore language learning, with my child?

A love of language is one of the most important things you can give your young child, as a strong language foundation can have a positive impact on later language development, academic potential, and even emotional adjustment.


Here are 4 ways to give your child the gift of gab—

Just blab!

A 2003 study tracked the language stimulation patterns of 42 children from low, middle, and high income families.

The results of the study were astounding.

Children of wealthier families heard more than 3 times more words than those in poorer families. Over the first four years of a child’s life, that equates to a thirty million word gap!

The take away is that, no matter what, it is imperative to talk to our children.

If it makes it easier, try not to get hung up on the notion of “quality over quantity.” In other words, turn every interaction, no matter how mundane, into a language-rich activity. Language need not be artful or used only when absolutely necessary.

You don’t have to be rich or highly educated to stimulate your child’s language development. The first thing to remember is that there is no wrong way to talk to your child—just talk!

A spoonful of praise...

The Thirty Million Word Gap study also found that children in wealthier families received many more words of encouragement than children in poorer families.

Over the first four years of life, children in lower income families received 125,000 more words of discouragement than encouragement, whereas children in higher income families received 560,000 more words of encouragement than discouragement.

The study also found that children in richer families fared better later in life in terms of academic and cognitive performance, which indicates that some of this disparity may be due to the typeof feedback children received from parents.

Moral of the story? Make sure you use words of discouragement sparingly; save it for situations in which your child is engaging in unsafe behavior, rather than when your child is simply being a kid.

Also, highlight and praise every new sound, word, or sentence you hear your child use. This will promote your child’s verbal development and a love of learning.

Talk to strangers.

Expose your child to a wide variety of communication partners—mom, dad, siblings, family friends, neighbors, the waiter at your favorite restaurant…anyone who is willing to talk to you two!

Every interaction in a young child’s life is a chance for your child to put every word he has heard and processed into action. With different communication partners, your child will become accustomed to different communication styles as well as different vocabularies.

The next time you go out to eat, let your child order his own food. Sure, this may take a few extra seconds but expediency isn’t paramount here—your child’s development is!

The next time your child presents an unprompted question to a family friend or invites a new communication partner to engage in gab, provide praise or a small reward, such as a sticker.

Children are social animals. Providing ample opportunities to communicate with as many people as possible can provide a noticeable boost in language development.

Play, play, play!

Play is a young child’s work. So, instead of setting aside time to name letters of the alphabet, embed the names of letters into the play your child is doing right now.

If your child loves trains and hauling freight all over his imagined railroad world, take the pieces of a letter puzzle and have him haul the letters from one place to another.

If building is your child’s thing, have her build a house for the letters to live in—heck, build a whole neighborhood for the letters. The letters can even be neighbors who communicate with one another.

Start with what your child is already interested in. Let your child direct you and then integrate little micro-teaching moments throughout playtime.

Sometimes you will see your child demonstrate new concepts right away and other times it will seem to go in one ear and out the other. That is completely normal.

We cannot reliably predict what our children will learn during play, but we do know that a child will learn more when given more opportunities for language-rich play.

During my time as a speech-language pathologist, I’ve often heard a gratifying refrain from parents of the childrenI have worked with: When she started working with you, she was barely speaking…but now we can’t get her to shut up!

I will admit, having two talkative children of my own, that sometimes we, as hard-working parents, do deserve to just chill in relative silence. It’s okay to turn on the TV for a little while. Remember that if you’re happy, so are your children.

In truth, this kind of quip from parents is what fulfills me as a therapist.

That loquacious child we’ve created is the fruit of vital labor and is much more likely to experience academic success and career fulfillment. That child is then more likely to pass on these positive experiences to her own children.

So, no matter what your childhood circumstances were or what your current circumstances are now, talk to your children more often than you think is necessary and praise your children more than you may think they deserve.

Your child’s generation and the generations in your family after that will thank you!

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These are the best bath time products you can get for under $20

These budget-friendly products really make a splash.

With babies and toddlers, bath time is about so much more than washing off: It's an opportunity for fun, sensory play and sweet bonding moments—with the added benefit of a cuddly, clean baby afterward.

Because bathing your baby is part business, part playtime, you're going to want products that can help with both of those activities. After countless bath times, here are the products that our editors think really make a splash. (Better yet, each item is less than $20!)

Comforts Bath Wash & Shampoo

Comforts Baby Wash & Shampoo

Made with oat extract, this bath wash and shampoo combo is designed to leave delicate skin cleansed and nourished. You and your baby will both appreciate the tear-free formula—so you can really focus on the bath time fun.

Munckin Soft Spot Bath Mat

Munchkin slip mat

When your little one is splish-splashing in the bath, help keep them from also sliding around with a soft, anti-slip bath mat. With strong suction cups to keep it in place and extra cushion to make bath time even more comfortable for your little one, this is an essential in our books.

Comforts Baby Lotion

Comforts baby lotion

For most of us, the bath time ritual continues when your baby is out of the tub when you want to moisturize their freshly cleaned skin. We look for lotions that are hypoallergenic, nourishing and designed to protect their skin.

The First Years Stack Up Cups

First year stack cups

When it comes to bath toys, nothing beats the classic set of stackable cups: Sort them by size, practice pouring water, pile them high—your little one will have fun with these every single bath time.

Comforts Baby Oil

Comforts baby oil

For dry skin that needs a little extra TLC, our team loves Comforts' fast-absorbing baby oil aloe vera and vitamin E. Pro tip: When applied right after drying off your baby, the absorption is even more effective.

KidCo Bath Toy Organizer

KidCo Bath Organizer

Between bathing supplies, wash rags, toys and more, the tub sure can get crowded in a hurry. We like that this organizer gives your little one space to play and bathe while still keeping everything you need within reach.

Another great tip? Shopping the Comforts line on to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices—and follow along on social media to see product releases and news at @comfortsforbaby.

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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I never wanted to be a mom. It wasn't something I ever thought would happen until I fell madly in love with my husband—who knew very well he wanted children. While he was a natural at entertaining our nephews or our friends' kids, I would awkwardly try to interact with them, not really knowing what to say or do.

Our first pregnancy was a surprise, a much-wanted one but also a unicorn, "first try" kind of pregnancy. As my belly grew bigger, so did my insecurities. How do you even mom when you never saw motherhood in your future? I focused all my uncertainties on coming up with a plan for the delivery of my baby—which proved to be a terrible idea when my dreamed-of unmedicated vaginal birth turned into an emergency C-section. I couldn't even start motherhood the way I wanted, I thought. And that feeling happened again when I couldn't breastfeed and instead had to pump and bottle-feed. And once more, when all the stress from things not going my way turned into debilitating postpartum anxiety that left me not really enjoying my brand new baby.

As my baby grew, slowly so did my confidence that I could do this. When he would tumble to the ground while learning how to walk and only my hugs could calm him, I felt invincible. But on the nights he wouldn't sleep—whether because he was going through a regression, a leap, a teeth eruption or just a full moon—I would break down in tears to my husband telling him that he was a better parent than me.

Then I found out I was pregnant again, and that this time it was twins. I panicked. I really cannot do two babies at the same time. I kept repeating that to myself (and to my poor husband) at every single appointment we had because I was just terrified. He, of course, thought I could absolutely do it, and he got me through a very hard pregnancy.

When the twins were born at full term and just as big as singleton babies, I still felt inadequate, despite the monumental effort I had made to grow these healthy babies and go through a repeat C-section to make sure they were both okay. I still felt my skin crawl when they cried and thought, What if I can't calm them down? I still turned to my husband for diaper changes because I wasn't a good enough mom for twins.

My husband reminded me (and still does) that I am exactly what my babies need. That I am enough. A phrase that has now become my mantra, both in motherhood and beyond, because as my husband likes to say, I'm the queen of selling myself short on everything.

So when my babies start crying, I tell myself that I am enough to calm them down.

When my toddler has a tantrum, I remind myself that I am enough to get through to him.

When I go out with the three kids by myself and start sweating about everything that could go wrong (poop explosions times three), I remind myself that I am enough to handle it all, even with a little humor.

And then one day I found this bracelet. Initially, I thought how cheesy it'd be to wear a reminder like this on my wrist, but I bought it anyway because something about it was calling my name. I'm so glad I did because since day one I haven't stopped wearing it.

Every time I look down, there it is, shining back at me. I am enough.

I Am Enough bracelet 

SONTAKEY  I Am Enough Bracelet

May this Oath Bracelet be your reminder that you are perfect just the way you are. That you are enough for your children, you are enough for your friends & family, you are enough for everything that you do. You are enough, mama <3


We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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