5 Tips to Get Your Toddler Talking!
Here you are, living with a small human, trying to equip him or her with all the tools necessary to one day be a functional big human. Toddler life is tricky! When your child is not using words yet to communicate, it makes your day to day even trickier. Let me tell you first and foremost – you know your child best. Moreover, you are probably anticipating all your toddler’s wants and needs.
In my experience, late talking toddlers and their parents compensate in the most incredible & creative ways. Your little one probably has at least 1 word or sound that they have started to use that can mean a wide variety of things. This looks like your child pointing to something and saying: “me” or “this” or “that” etc. They have learned that if they visually direct you to the wanted item and say a catch-all word, they get what they want. You as a parent have learned that if you ask 5ish basic yes/no questions, more often than not, your toddler will be able to nod their head, reach for the item, smile or otherwise indicate, ‘bingo!’ The goal is to create opportunities for your child to use words to communicate instead of relying on gestures and/or responding to your yes/no questions. Here are my top 5 tips to get your toddler talking…
#1 Pretend & Play Dumb
It is okay to pretend that you do not know what your child wants sometimes! Often the first time that I meet your child, he or she will say at least 1 word that you have not heard them say before. It is because in your little one’s eyes, I am dumb. They have never seen me before and they know that I do not know what they want or what they know. Your little one will start to play the ‘look what I can do’ game, which is quite possibly my favorite. Good news, you can start playing dumb too! You are still going to stick to your daily routine; however, when it comes to playing games or new toys, just pretend you do not know what your child wants. Easy words to start with are: “open” “more” “help” “on” etc. Think about it, your little one brings you a toy and puts it in your lap or puts your hand on the toy. You are pretty sure your toddler wants help with it because it won’t open, work, or turn on. Well, here is your chance! You say, “open?” Only say 1 word. Your toddler will indicate yes or no. If they say yes, then you say, “open” slowly and with exaggerated movements with your mouth. You can back up and have them imitate “oh” if you are having no luck with “open.” If they did not want it to be opened, you go through the questioning process by saying only 1 word at a time (i.e. “help?” “on?” etc.) When you are starting this new behavior, it is very important to accept ANY sound that your little one makes in an attempt to imitate you! Reward baby steps because any sound is better than just dropping a toy in your lap.
#2 In The Words of Wilson Phillips: Hold On!
Ah, gentle withholding! A classic go-to move to increase language. Gentle withholding occurs when you hold onto an item that your child wants until they do something to get it. he majority of parents start this game at the “please” stage. You hold the cupcake away from your child and ask, “What do you say?” They say, “please” and you give the cupcake. Good news – you already know how to play! Better news— you can start now! The main rule is do not withhold items that are part of your child’s daily routine. That is, do not hold onto your child’s cup of milk until they say “milk” because you are not going to be able to remain consistent. What I mean is that you are not going to put the cup of milk away if your tiny friend refuses to say anything. Also, “gentle” is a key word here. I am not trying to create multiple tantrums throughout the day. I am simply asking you to raise the bar for certain items so that your little one starts to acknowledge that they have to say something to get something. It is best to start with treats or toys. A lot of late talkers have only 2-3 words and 1 of them is usually something that is hard to say but extremely motivating to them. One of my favorites is a little guy whose 3rd word was “hallway” because he loved running down the long hallway of his building. Gentle withholding works well during play activities and games. Maybe you don’t push the toy car until your little one completes ‘ready, set…’ with a big “GO!”
#3 Motivate Me
Simple yet effective: the more motivating an item it, the more likely it is that your toddler will request it. The easiest way to create these moments is to use clear bags or containers. Place fun & preferred toy items in a plastic bag or to-go container that is see through. That way your little one can see it but can’t open it without your help. You have now created an opportunity for your child to use “open” “help” or the name of the item inside (e.g. “ball,” “car” etc.) You can create motivating moments in other ways by checking out your little one’s environment. Are most of his or her preferred foods, toys, and activities easily accessible? Maybe you move some of those treats to a higher shelf, etc. Start with 1-2 small changes so as not to overwhelm anyone.
#4 Stay Consistent
It is incredibly important to set new standards in which you will be able to stay consistent! Children are designed to manipulate the world around them and they have memories like elephants. They will always start with what is easiest, quickest, and habitual (i.e. pointing to or reaching for things they want). They will always remember what worked best last time. Your child may continue to try using gestures to request, because it is easier and if you give in, they will remember. However, if you continue to hold out until they attempt to use their words before giving in, they will realize that the gestures no longer work and shift gears. I always suggest starting with only 1-2 baby steps that you feel comfortable with so you can adjust together.
#5 Allow For a Learning Curve
After you read this, I hope that you will want to change the rules & up the ante for your team. In doing so – you are creating a different dynamic than the one that your child is used to, so please allow for a little pushback. We all need a little transition time. I promise that if you start slow and stay consistent, you will see big results! Once your child realizes that there are new rules, they will follow suit, they just need time!
Get in Touch!
If you or your child need support in language-building or creating a speech-friendly home environment, The Speech Teacher is here to help. Molly Dresner is a Speech Language Pathologist, author, and mom based in Chevy Chase, MD. Whether it be in-person, via phone calls, or email chats, support is here for you! To contact me with questions or to chat, visit here. To explore one of Molly’s books, visit here.