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How to Get Your Toddler to Talk

3 ways to help speed up and improve your little one’s language skills.

How to Get Your Toddler to Talk

Each May, Better Hearing & Speech Month (BHSM) provides an opportunity to raise awareness about speech and communication disorders. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, approximately 8 to 9 percent of preschoolers struggle to use their voices. As parents, we are constantly vigilant regarding our children’s growth. Whether or not you may have a concern about your toddler’s early language development, the tips below may serve as a great set of guidelines for fostering communication skills.

  1. A Communication-Rich Environment

    It is often as simple as this: talking to and around your child can help them have a larger vocabulary and better grammar. The rationale is intuitive - the more language your child is exposed to, the more he or she will learn it and develop his or her own natural abilities. So even if you’re talking about concepts that your child won’t necessarily understand – like why you’re getting gas or what makes the sky blue – he or she will pick things up! How is that? Neural activity in your child’s brain feeds on itself, which means that new connections made in the brain tend to foster further connections. Make sure to tell all caregivers to do this. That includes babysitters, grandparents and…fathers. Not to pick on my fellow dads, but sometimes men need a reminder to do this – though it’s not necessarily their fault. A famous study found that women tend to have a greater quantity of a protein called Foxp2, which stimulates language. So frequent communication, in general, may come more easily to moms . Either way, whoever spends time with your toddler needs to create a stimulating environment to encourage and nurture language development.

  1. Child-Directed Speech

    While I was in graduate school at Columbia University, I became fascinated by and began to study a concept called child-directed speech . Child-directed speech, commonly known as baby talk, is a way of speaking that is characterized by slowed-down speech with lots of ups and downs in terms of pitch and exaggerated facial expressions. With this technique, parents change their vocabulary to praise their toddlers for their efforts and to let them know that their way of speaking is not only acceptable but encouraged. For example, a parent using child-directed speech might use “baba” for bottle or “ew” for garbage can. Babies and toddlers tend to prefer this method, and numerous studies have also supported the use of baby talk in promoting early language growth, along with bonding between baby and his or her parents. In short, be a frequent and proud user of baby talk!

  1. Sing, Rhyme, Mimic -- Just PlayIn the same vein as infant-directed speech, make sure you are making light of language, so to speak. This means: sing a lot (even as you’re doing daily mundane chores), rhyme words and show your child the joy of speech and all that you can do with this crazy communication mechanism. And very crucially, when your baby or toddler starts to babble, make “raspberries” with her lips or to make new facial expressions, throw it right back at her. Mimic what she’s doing to give her real feedback and encouragement. This will motivate her to continue to develop these behaviors, which are the precursors to meaningful speech. So, when in doubt, make yourself into something of a slapstick comedian for your baby, and you’ll be shocked at what you could get back from her!

  1. Get Help

    Of course, if you feel your child needs some extra help and you have concerns about your child’s speech or language abilities, rest assured. There are wonderful trained and experienced clinical speech-language pathologists at the ready here in NYC, and around the country. Simply search via your zip code and you can directly book at the first discounted session with the ideal speech therapist for your family. It may be the best investment you could make for your child’s overall growth.

Image source.

Author: Gordy Rogers, M.S. CCC-SLP, co-founder of Speech Buddies

In This Article

    Tips parents need to know about poor air quality and caring for kids with asthma

    There are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

    When wildfires struck the West Coast in September 2020, there was a lot for parents to worry about. For parents of children with asthma, though, the danger could be even greater. "There are more than 400 toxins that are present in wildfire smoke. That can activate the immune system in ways that aren't helpful by both causing an inflammatory response and distracting the immune system from fighting infection," says Amy Oro, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health. "When smoke enters into the lungs, it causes irritation and muscle spasms of the smooth muscle that is around the small breathing tubes in the lungs. This can lead to difficulty with breathing and wheezing. It's really difficult on the lungs."

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    Do your best to filter the air.

    According to Oro, a HEPA filter is your best bet to effectively clean pollutants from the air. Many homes are equipped with a built-in HEPA filter in their air conditioning systems, but you can also get a canister filter. Oro says her family (her husband and children all suffer from asthma) also made use of a hack from the New York Times and built their own filter by duct taping a HEPA furnace filter to the front of a box fan. "It was pretty disgusting what we accumulated in the first 20 hours in our fan," she says.

    Avoid letting your child play outside or overly exert themselves in open air.

    "Unfortunately, cloth masks don't do very much [to protect you from the smoke pollution]," Oro says. "You really need an N95 mask, and most of those have been allocated toward essential workers." To keep at-risk children safer, Oro recommends avoiding brisk exercise outdoors. Instead, set up an indoor obstacle course or challenge your family to jumping jacks periodically to keep everyone moving safely.

    Know the difference between smoke exposure and COVID-19.

    "COVID-19 can have a lot of the same symptoms—dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pain could overlap. But what COVID and other viruses generally cause are fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Those would tell you it's not just smoke exposure," Oro says. When a child has been exposed to smoke, they often complain of a "scrape" in their throat, burning eyes, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. If the child has asthma, parents should watch for a flare of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or a tight sensation in their chest.

    Unfortunately, not much is known about long-term exposure to wildfire smoke on a healthy or compromised immune system, but elevated levels of air pollution have been associated with increased COVID-19 rates. That's because whenever there's an issue with your immune system, it distracts your immune system from fighting infections and you have a harder time fighting off viruses. Limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke is your best bet to keep immune systems strong.

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    Whatever type of medication your child takes for asthma, make sure you have it on-hand and that your child is keeping up with regular doses. Contact your child's pediatrician, especially if your area has a hazardous air quality—they may want to adjust your child's medication schedule or dosage to prevent an attack. Oro also recommends that, if your child has asthma, it might be helpful to have a stethoscope or even a pulse oximeter at home to help diagnose issues with your pediatrician through telehealth.

    Most importantly, don't panic.

    In some cases, social distancing and distance learning due to COVID may be helping to keep sensitive groups like children with asthma safer. Oro says wildfires in past years have generally resulted in more ER visits for children, but the most recent fires haven't seen the same results. "A lot of what we've seen is that the smoke really adversely affects adults, especially older adults over 65," Oro says. "Children tend to be really resilient."

    This article was sponsored by Stanford Children's Health. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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