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9 Ways to Get Your Toddler Talking


It's a whole new world when your toddler starts talking—so that's what they've been thinking about all this time! Here are some ways to encourage your little one to get those words going, as recommended by a pediatric speech therapist. As you know, all kids are different and they develop at their own pace. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about your little one's development.

1. Use Sign Language

a dad using sign language

Baby sign language has been shown to help children develop stronger verbal skills sooner. It might seem counter-intuitive, but using signs can help little ones communicate, and the excitement they feel about that actually encourages them to talk.

Start with a few signs—try the ones for words you might use frequently like “more,” “all done,” and “baby”—and incorporate them into your daily routine. Always say the word as you do the sign, and repeat both the sign and the word frequently.

2. Talk About Everything

a mom holding and talking to her toddler

Exposure to words is important when you’re learning a language. So talk—a lot!—to your toddler. Speak slowly and clearly, using simple words and short sentences. Keep it conversational, with plenty of pauses to listen to your child and let him respond.

Can’t think of anything to say? Just narrate what you and your little one are doing. While you’re making dinner, pretend you’re on a cooking show explaining how to make the meal. When you’re getting your little dressed, say the names of clothes and what you’re doing: “Now we’re pulling the T-shirt over your head!”

3. Reward Words

a mom kissing her baby son

Be generous and specific in your praise when your toddler talks. For example, if she asked for milk by name, tell her how proud you are of her for using the word for milk. That’s also a great time to share some more words; you could add that milk is cold and helps us grow strong bones.

4. Challenge Jibberish

a mom talking with her baby son

You’ve been pretending to understand baby talk for so long, it might feel normal to respond to a nonsensical sentence. But if your toddler is at the point where he could be moving beyond babbling, it’s better to let him know that you don’t understand what he’s saying. Gently tell him, “I liked that you talked, but I’m sorry, I don’t understand you.”

5. Be His Echo

a mom talking with her baby son

Repeat what your little one says to you, adding on one or two words as you do so. Called echo expansion modeling, this technique is recommended by pediatric speech therapists to encourage toddlers to further develop their expressive speech.

6. Don’t Anticipate

a close up of a baby boy smiling

Make your little one work a bit for what he wants! Rather than anticipating his every need and request, wait until he asks.

7. Read Everything

a mom reading with her son

Books are a great way to expose your tot to words and develop a love of reading that will benefit him his entire life. Read to your little one every day. You can also read aloud all the street signs, the marketing copy on the box of cereal, and the names of products at the grocery store.

8. Be Blind to Gestures

a little boy pointing while sitting on his bike

Your little one might be reluctant to work on her speech if he’s finding gestures do the trick just fine, thank you very much. To help him work on words, delay your response to his gestures. If he’s pointing to request more apples, pause to see if you can get her to spit out the word.

When you do respond to his request, be sure to use the word repeatedly and let him know what you’re doing: “Would you like more apple? I’m happy to get you some more apple. These apples are sweet and crunchy! I like them too.”

9. Limit Screen Time

a kid watching tv

Kids learn from actively interacting with their worlds, something that doesn’t happen when they’re parked in front of a TV or tablet. And research shows that screen time is linked with delayed language acquisition in children under three years old. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time to two hours a day for kids two years old and older. And younger children and babies should be discouraged from playing with or watching screens at all.

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