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Six Ways to Naturally Enhance Your Toddler’s Language Skills

Six Ways to Naturally Enhance Your Toddler’s Language Skills

Self-Talk. When your child is within earshot, talk out loud about what you’re seeing, hearing, or doing. When grocery shopping, you could pick up an apple and say “red apple”, “round apple”, “crunchy apple”, “sweet apple”. Describe what you see and hear when you go for a walk with  your child in their stroller by saying things like “big tree”, “little flower”, “green grass”, “barking dog”. When cooking, you might say, “hot stove”, “pick up bowl”, “get spoon”, “stir stir”. Be sure to use slow, clear speech and keep your phrases to 2-3 words. Your child may not appear to be paying attention, but you are providing valuable models of communication skills!

Parallel-Talk. Talk out loud about what your child is doing. For example, when your child is playing, narrate what is happening to them. You might say, “roll ball”, “pick up ball”, “throw ball”, “mommy is home”, “running to mommy”. Providing labels and descriptives increases vocabulary of nouns and verbs.  Even if you child is not yet using these words, they will begin to understand what they mean.

Don’t Anticipate. When we automatically anticipate our children’s’ needs and desires, we’re taking away their opportunity to communicate. Put a favorite toy in view, but out of reach, and then wait. Give your child a couple of crackers, anticipating they’ll want more, and then wait. Give your child something you know they need help with, and then wait. Wait for them to point, gesture, sign, make a sound or verbally request so they will learn the outcome of communication- they get what they want or need!  If your child is unable to independently request (verbally or nonverbally), take his or her hands and provide hand over hand assistance to point or use a simple sign like “more”.


Do Model & Expand. Once your child is using single words to verbally communicate, add a word to what your child says to increase vocabulary and phrase length, and correct grammar if needed. For example, change “up” to “pick up”, change “more” to “more juice”, change “daddy” to “daddy is home”. Vary or exaggerate your intonation when introducing new words so they stand out to your child. Your child does not need to repeat after you, they only need to hear their own words, modeled and expanded on by you.

Reinforce & Praise. Respond quickly to your child’s speech attempts with a smile, eye contact, or clapping your hands. Verbal praise can include modeling back to your child what he or she said and letting them know you liked what they said. When you child knows they have made you happy, they’re eager to do it again.

Maintain Expectations. If your child was spontaneously requesting cookies all last week, do not accept a simple point to the cookie jar this week. Let your child know that they need to talk or use their words if they want a cookie. Once you know what your child is capable of, hold them accountable so their communication skills continue to grow.

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