How to Increase a Toddler's Communication Skills

By David B. Ryan
Daily reading sessions help your toddler improve communication skills.
Daily reading sessions help your toddler improve communication skills.

Your toddler has a vocabulary of between 20 and 300 words by his second birthday and learns one to three new words every week, according to Zero to Three, the website for the National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families. Your child will have a vocabulary spurt every few weeks and introduce more words into the conversation. By age 3, older toddlers typically have expanded their vocabulary to include a bank of approximately 1,000 words. Growth in the basic building blocks for communication, including vocabulary, happens when the adults in your child's world help develop language and practice basic communication skills.

Select books to create a personal library and read at least one book with your toddler from the collection every day. Involve your child in collecting the books from bookstores, yard sales and library book sales. Focus on picking books of high interest to your toddler, and mix picture and board books that allow an adult or older child to read aloud using the images to help interest the toddler in the reading experience.

Set aside a regular time during the day to talk to your child using adult-type language. Avoid baby talk by using complete sentences during this time. Talk about the topics your child enjoys and about activities your child participates in daily such as making and eating meals, dressing for the day or travel. This topic selection gives your toddler some basic vocabulary to use in the conversation. Avoid correcting your child during these chats. Focus instead on a give-and-take conversation that shares understandable ideas between you and your child. Ask questions about confusing statements and only offer vocabulary when your toddler looks to you to help find an appropriate word. Reinforce any new vocabulary words on your side of the conversation by reusing the word in the correct context.

Plan at least one playdate during the week for your child to interact with other toddlers. Encourage the children to participate in a planned activity, including art, craft, gardening or cooking projects to build basic vocabulary skills. You may not recognize all of the words used during the toddler activity, but your child is learning basic interpersonal skills by playing with other children the same age. Playdates also teach important communication skills such as sharing and taking turns using toys and craft items.

Involve your toddler in household conversations by answering questions from your child and by directing simple questions about the discussion for the toddler to answer. Rather than asking questions that elicit a yes-or-no answer, formulate questions that require your child to think about an answer and respond with at least one idea. Questions offer a way for your toddler to make sense of the world. The question-answer conversation helps your toddler build thinking skills that improve communication abilities.


Reserve a collection of books to read to your toddler before bed each evening. This offers the perfect time to read aloud as the daytime activity slows and toddlers relax after bathing.

About the Author

David B. Ryan has been a professional writer since 1989. His work includes various books, articles for "The Plain Dealer" in Cleveland and essays for Oxford University Press. Ryan holds degrees from the University of Cincinnati and Indiana University and certifications in emergency management and health disaster response.