How to Encourage Your Toddler to Talk

Helping Your Toddler Develop Language Skills

Worried that your toddler is too quiet? Engage him in talking and listening activities to boost his language skills.

Toddlers can ask roughly 5,000 questions a day, which can get a little overwhelming when you’re also trying to cook dinner, clean the house and prep for work the next day. But silence isn’t always golden. Some tots are a little slower in language acquisition. By age 2 to 3, toddlers typically have words for most things, can use two- to three-word phrases and can speak so people can understand them. If your toddler isn’t quite there yet, immerse her in the world of words to unleash her inner chatterbox.

Talk as Much as Possible

Babies absorb a huge amount of language during their first three years, so it’s important to expose your little one to as many words and experiences as possible in those early years. Even if your tot is older than 3, it’s never too late to start talking up a storm.

Not sure what to say? Talk about anything you’re okay with your little one repeating. Talk normally instead of using baby talk. Give a play-by-play of your day as you’re doing things together. Read books, and talk about the plot and characters. Ask your toddler questions. They can be silly questions that make your toddler laugh, such as, “If you had a pet dinosaur, what would you name him?” Sometimes the make-believe questions encourage your child to talk more because they’re fun and silly.

Repeat Words in Context

Build off the words your toddler already knows and uses. If he points to food and says, “Eat,” expand on it. Say, “Do you want to eat? Are you hungry? I can give you this cracker. Do you want the cracker?” If he points to a dog, you might say, “Yes, that’s a dog. It’s a big, furry, brown dog. He’s running. What a funny brown dog!” By starting with a word he knows, you make the learning familiar. You’re showing how to use that word in context and expanding his vocabulary by adding other words.

Play Fun Games

You don’t need to drill your toddler on different words to help her expand her vocabulary. Work in the chance to increase speech with fun games that focus heavily on talking or listening. Try these options:

  • Point to different body parts, and have your tot say the name of each. You can do the same thing with objects in the room.
  • Gather a bag of familiar objects. Have your toddler pull one out of the bag, tell you what it is and talk about what it does.
  • Print pictures of everyday objects. Ask your toddler to name the items. You also can play sorting games such as putting pictures of similar items into piles.
  • Play “Simon Says” to help her learn more words and expand her understanding of those words.
  • Hide items for a scavenger hunt. Give her hints or simple directions to find the item. She has to listen and process the words you use. Let her have a turn hiding items and giving you directions, so she gets a chance to practice talking.

Engage in Pretend Play

Dramatic play is the perfect chance for your tot to test out new language skills. There aren’t a lot of rules to pretend play, and kids take on fun, new roles in which they might feel more comfortable testing out new words. The props, costumes and toys you use during dramatic play also give your child something to talk about. Play with your child, or arrange a play date with other kids to make dramatic play interactive.

When to See a Specialist

It’s natural to worry about speech delays if your toddler isn’t talking very much. Your tot may just be a later bloomer in the language department, but there could also be some developmental delays that are keeping your toddler quiet.

Some potential signs of a delay include:

  • Using gestures instead of vocalization to communicate
  • Difficulty imitating sounds
  • Unable to come up with words or phrases on his own by age 2
  • Repeats only a few words
  • Can’t vocalize more than immediate needs
  • Unable to follow simple commands

Always talk to your doctor if you’re worried about your toddler’s speech or use of language. Your pediatrician may do an assessment or refer you to a speech-language pathologist.

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