Hint: It’s so fun!
1. Reciprocal play + turn taking
This is one of my favorite ways to establish two-way communication with a young child. Parents are often surprised to know they should be practicing this skill with their child. Believe it or not, taking turns does not come naturally, as toddlers and young children are more internally focused.
Here are a few easy ways to encourage this skill:
- Roll a small ball back and forth with your child. I like to have them sit down with legs open to catch the ball first. Then say, "One, two, three!" and roll the ball to them. This is every baby’s favorite game. It is so simple and wonderful because it establishes eye contact, rapport, turn taking and even a little impulse control as the child waits for his/her turn. Rolling a truck or car back and forth is the same idea.
- If child is engaged in quiet play by themselves with their favorite toy, simply ask them if you could have a turn. Promise to give it right back when they are finished. Praise them for sharing when you give it back. "Thank you so much for sharing! You let me borrow your favorite car and I gave it right back."
- Once they have practiced this skill at length with you and you feel it is now an established skill, let them practice sharing with a sibling or maybe another child at the playground.
2. Pick a handful of simple words to repeat over and over
If you want to encourage your toddler to talk, you need to involve words in your everyday routine. Pick a few easy words or phrases that you know your child is paying attention to during each daily routine (brushing teeth, bathtime, mealtime, leaving the house).
Say these words or phrases to your child every single day—the more repetition the better! Remember, the key here is to find words or items you know your child is attending to, visually at that particular time, and then label it for them.
Here are some examples of words and phrases to involve in daily routines:
- Bath time: splash, water, bubbles, wash, soap, clean up toys, all done bath, all clean
- Mealtime: fork, spoon, plate, peas, eggs, cookie, apple, banana, eat, more, yummy, drink, water
- Leaving the house: shoes/put on shoes, let's go, bye-bye, ready, car, shirt on, car-seat, buckle on
3. Make fun sounds + pair words with movement
Toddlers do so well imitating speech when it is paired with a movement or an action. This is easily my favorite way to encourage speech and the most effective in my experience.
There is a reason that toddlers often learn how to make their animal sounds earlier than saying actual words. It is because sounds are easier for young children to learn than words. So why not take advantage of this and use fun sounds during play with your child?
Here are my go-to action words for encouraging speech:
- Say "zoom, zoom, zoom!" when making lines with a crayon
- Say "vroom, vroom!" when pushing a truck
- Say "jump, jump!" when jumping on the bed or trampoline
- Say "yay!" when clapping
- Say "pop, Pop" when popping bubbles with your finger
- Say "choo-choo" when pushing train on the track
- Say "eep, beep!" when pushing horn on a toy truck
- Say "bang, bang, bang" when banging two blocks together
- Say "up, up, up!" as child climbs stairs at the playground
4. Eliminate background noise and visual distractions
Eliminating over-stimulating visuals and loud background sounds is going to enhance your child's auditory attention to what is being said. If you have the television on all day long while you are trying to communicate with your child, there is a good chance the television is becoming a barrier to his/her comprehension of what you are saying.
Many children have a difficult time filtering out what is being said vs what is going on in the background. Basically what happens is the background noise and the talking all blend together and it just sounds like noise to them. Keep TV time to a minimum and try to speak to him/her when it is quiet so they can properly pay attention to you.
5. Point and repeat
Point to things in your everyday routine and repeat them three times. This might feel silly at first but the more your child hears the word, the quicker they are going to comprehend it and be able to repeat it back to you.
An example would be “sit, sit sit" when you want them to sit down to put their shoes on. Or pointing at the pictures of a book, saying "ball, ball, ball."
6. Imitate desired speech
When your child makes a gesture, or cries and whines and you know what it is that they want, imitate the speech that you desire them to say. For example, if they are asking for milk by crying, say, "Oh, you want milk! Say 'milk please!'" Even if your child doesn't say it initially, continue to repeat the verbal command at least three times before giving it to them.
After you continue this drill every time, day after day, when they request their milk, they will eventually formulate something that resembles an utterance of the word 'milk' or 'please' instead of crying/whining/pointing.
Remember, from their perspective, if they have learned that they get what they want just by pointing and crying, then there is no need for them to use words.
7. Simple books + puzzles with one picture
Choose books that have one familiar household item on the page against a white backdrop for babies under the age of one. That way, when you point and say the word, they know what you are pointing to. Babies don't have the ability to filter out visual distractions like adults can. When there is too much going on or the items in the book don't resemble familiar items in their world, they will quickly lose interest in reading. Even drawings can be too distracting and unfamiliar to babies and young children, which is why real pictures are best.
Formboard puzzles starting with three pictures are best (I love the Melissa and Doug formboard puzzles). Start with three pictures and work your way up to those with nine pictures.
Take all of the pieces out, saying "take out, take out, take out" as you lay the pieces down. Then, pick up a puzzle piece and say "Here is the dog! Where does the dog go?" If they don't find it or guess wrong, that's okay. Say, "Oh, here's the dog!" and assist them in matching it into the correct hole. The next time, your child can try it themselves. Give helpful, short, verbal commands such as "turn, turn turn" or "put it in."
8. Assist with the first sound
If you are trying to teach a specific word, or if you notice your child attempting to say a word but having difficulty, this is often helpful. If they are trying to say the word "more", help them by saying "mmmmore" annunciating the "m" sound. If they are trying to say "sit", help them by saying "ssssit" annunciating the "s" sound. They might not get it the first time they try, but with practice they will!
Originally story by Ashley Thurn for helpinghandsot.com.