Mother and Baby

Say What? How To Get Your Toddler Talking

While some tots pick up words faster than they can scoff smarties, others take longer to get the hang of expressing themselves

Few words are as eagerly anticipated as your baby’s first. From that first mispronounced “mama” or “dada”, learning to communicate is a crucial part of being a toddler and one that will help prevent him from being too frustrated, so help get him chatting with the following tips.

Talk from day one

Right from the newborn stage, get in the habit of talking to your baby so he can hear your voice and tune into language. You might feel silly, but you’ll soon feel (relatively) normal telling your baby about your weekend plans.

Get in the habit of talking to your baby so he can hear your voice and tune into language

Read books

Again, even when your baby can barely focus, let alone understand what’s happening in The Very Hungry Caterpillar, remember to read to him.

‘Stick with it even if he’s not listening and read with enthusiasm – the pay off will come later as you’ll be passing on the joy of words and language,’ says Miranda Russell, childcare consultant.

It helps to have favourite books which you read time and time again. The rhythm and familiarity of the same phrases will help your baby grasp the connection between words and objects. 

Switch off

If you always have the radio or telly on in the background, try to ditch the habit. Your toddler will find it easier to absorb words and learn to repeat them if there’s a quiet background.

Repeat words properly

If your toddler only half says words, or has his own version of them, like ‘ga-ga’ for Granny, don’t correct him, but just say, ‘Yes, that’s right, that’s Granny.’

Name objects

When you’re together, for example, eating dinner and you pick up a soon or a bowl, remember to say the word ‘spoon’ and ‘bowl’ and encourage him to repeat it after you. Even if he just has a go, trying to form a letter or two, make sure you praise him lots.

Sing nursery rhymes

Repetition and song is a great way to get your toddler interested in language and repeating sounds.

‘Use lots of facial expression too,’ says Miranda. ‘This will help reinforce the language.’ Try everything from songs like Old Macdonald Had a Farm to rhymes with actions like Incy-Wincy Spider.

Ask your baby’s opinion

When you’re chatting with your baby, leave time for him to ‘reply’. ‘This teaches him the rhythm of conversation and encourages him to participate,’ says Dr Sarah Roseberry Lytle, director at the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington . ‘Even before he’s talking, he’ll have a lot to say by way of grunts, coos, gurgles and babbles. Respond to these contributions!’ 

To encourage this ‘back and forth’ before your baby can talk, play ‘So Big’. Gently stretch your infant’s arms above his head and ask, ‘How big is (child’s name)? Soooo big.’ Then add, ‘Here I come!’ and kiss his tummy or neck. Even a young baby will often hold his arms up, asking for the game to be continued. Respond to this gesture and you are having a pre-verbal conversation.

Experiment with signs

Your baby is trying to communicate with you and, although he can’t yet talk, he can sign. ‘Lots of parents report that signing reduces frustration as children can communicate before they have oral language to do so,’ says Sarah. ‘It doesn’t impede language development as long as it is used in conjunction with spoken language.’

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