How to teach your toddler to talk

Say what? Get your child’s communication skills off to the best start possible. Repeat after us…

by Emily Thorpe |

Your baby's cute, fun, adorable... and may not be making much sense yet. Things take on a whole new exciting level when she reaches toddlerhood and starts with those first words.

Good job there’s plenty you can do to help her along...

1. Read together

Storytime isn’t just a fun way to wind down before bed. ‘Your child will learn an incredible amount from listening to your voice,’ says speech and language therapist Lauren Woodcock.

Engage her in conversation by pointing to pictures and asking, ‘What’s this?’ Inject as much enthusiasm into your voice as possible – research shows that talking in a singsong voice helps increase your baby’s understanding of words.

2. Be patient

All children speak slowly and stumble over words for the first few years, but avoid finishing her sentences – you’ll knock her confidence and she’ll lose the motivation to express herself. Active listening skills are key. Get down to her level – eye contact is a huge part of communication and lets her know she has your attention.

If you don’t understand, be honest and ask her to repeat it. ‘It might take several attempts, but it’s better than saying, “That’s lovely”, when she’s just asked for more juice,’ says Lauren.

 3. Sing!

Songs and nursery rhymes help develop speech. ‘They’re fun, and the more your child enjoys something, the more engaged she’ll be,’ says David Messer, head of Childhood Development and Learning at the Open University.

Games like Round And Round The Garden teach toddlers about taking turns, which is effectively the first rule of conversation. Be warned: kids love repetition and it helps them learn, so expect to hear ‘Again! Again!’ a lot.

4. Explore the world

If you want your toddler to talk, give her something to talk about. ‘Discuss the world around you – the more you share with her, the greater her understanding and vocabulary will be,’ says child development expert Sue Gascoyne.

One way to help is to expand everything she says by one word – so, if she says, ‘Car’, you say, ‘Yes, a blue car’.

Meals are another important time for communication. ‘Use them as a way for your child to explore the different foods she’s eating,’ says Sue. ‘Talk about it by asking, “Is that yummy?” or “How does that taste?”’

5. Enjoy some quiet time

TV doesn’t have to be bad – but having it on constantly can discourage your child’s ear from tuning into certain sounds. ‘Plus, it will distract you and prevent you from talking to her as much,’ says Sue. Watch TV as a treat together, so you can talk about what’s happening and ask questions.

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