Toddler Grunting When Trying to Talk

By Tamara Runzel
Turn your grunter into a talker.
Turn your grunter into a talker.

Does your toddler seem more like a caveman than the rest of his friends when it comes to talking? You would pay to hear him say “Mama,” “Dada,” or “More,” but instead he just grunts. Granted, you usually know what he wants, but more words would be nice. You may not need to worry, though, since toddlers develop at different rates, but there are a few things you can do to help that little mouth get motoring.


Maybe you’re expecting too much from him. From 12 to 15 months, most kids have a range of speech sounds, and they may say a word or two in addition to “Mama” and “Dada.” Grunting, though, still indicates an intent to talk. At 18 months, most toddlers say about 20 words. He may not have 20 words, but if grunting is his sole means of communication at this age -- you’ll want to talk to your pediatrician.

Receptive vs. Expressive Language

Another thing to consider is how much she understands. Expressive language is her actual spoken words while receptive language is the words she understands. Receptive language is very important in a toddler’s development. If she understands simple phrases and can follow easy directions, you’re on the right track. At 12 months, most toddlers understand 50 words. By 18 months, they might understand 200 or more words. The words she understands can be as simple as “Dog,” “Cat,” “Milk,” “More,” “Mama” and “Dada.”

Verbal Encouragement

Talk about everything you do throughout the day -- making him breakfast, helping pick up his toys, or running his bath. Make conversation a normal thing around the house, even if it’s just the two of you. Keep your sentences short. For example, rather than saying, “Do you want your cup off the counter?” try, “Do you want your cup?” It’s easier for your toddler to catch words in shorter statements. Express what your toddler wants rather than just getting it when he grunts. For example, if he’s pointing to his milk and grunting, you might say, “I don’t understand. Do you want your milk?” Give him plenty of praise when you see any slight improvement.

Fun Encouragement

Reading, singing and playing aren’t just fun, they’re instrumental in encouraging your little one to talk. Board books, lift-the-flap books, books with lots of vivid pictures and simple words are all good choices. Pick books on topics that interest your toddler, such as animals, trains or princesses. Sing songs with motions such as “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” or “Wheels on the Bus,” or “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Take your daughter to play dates where she can listen to and watch other kids her age talking.


Although toddlers develop at different rates, at some point, if your toddler continues to grunt rather than talk, you need to speak to your pediatrician. He will likely refer you to a speech pathologist who will determine if your child has any speech delays and possible intervention to help your little one. Things to watch for include: no words by 18 months, difficulty understanding what you say, not responding to loud noises, using only gestures and no sound to communicate, and not being able to follow simple directions.

About the Author

Tamara Runzel has been writing parenting, family and relationship articles since 2008. Runzel started in television news, followed by education before deciding to be a stay at home mom. She is now a mom of three and home schools her two oldest children. Runzel holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication from University of the Pacific.