Helping my child to talk
As your baby starts to grow and approach toddlerhood, they are going to be working towards many big milestones – such as walking and talking. It’s common to wonder, “How can I help my child talk?” It doesn’t happen overnight, however with patience and consistency there are many things parents can do to support their child’s communication development.
First, it’s important to know what is expected for your child’s age. For an in depth list, see our blog post on how many words your child should be saying. Generally:
- 1 year old: most one year olds have one or two words, usually highly motivating words or words that they will use regularly (like “mumma” or “dada”) and will attempt to copy your words
- 2 years old: at two years old, a child will use between 50-200 words and combine 2 words in phrases
- 3 years old: by three, a child can use short sentences, answer simple “yes/no, what and where” questions and start to use some grammar markers like “-ing” at the end of a word
So what can a parent do to help? Here are our top tips:
- Make lots of talking opportunities
These usually come up when your child wants something. To start, you can create what is called a “communication temptation”. This is where we tempt the child to say something. This might look like putting their favourite toy out of reach, waiting for them to see it and let them ask for it. If they don’t use words, look for other ways they are communicating (e.g. pointing/reaching) and model what you think they are trying to say. They don’t need to copy you, just you saying they words in the same way each time is enough! This can also be done with their favourite food. For example, if it’s snack time, and they generally want a yogurt, have it in sight but out of reach then wait until they ask for it. If you have puzzles or a Mr. Potato Head, which is excellent for teaching body parts, you should wait to hand them the pieces until they ask. Repeat what your toddler says or is trying to say.
- Expanding on what your child says
When trying to expand your toddler’s language skills, you can focus on reaching the next level. Don’t try to go too far ahead and teach your little one something too complicated. It’s typical for toddlers to talk or communicate using only a few words. You can try to increase their vocabulary gradually. When doing this, it’s important to always listen to your child and follow their lead. Skipping to something too challenging will not keep them engaged or encouraged even to try. Try to keep it fun and not push too hard! You can make the most progress if you focus on topics that they’re interested in. Does your child love animals? Talk about animals you see in real life or those you spot in books. From there you can:
- Make words bigger (Expand): You can add words to what they say. For example, Let’s say they hand you a toy car and say the word “car.” Then give it back and say, “Yes, a car, a big, blue car. It goes vroom vroom”
- Imitate: When your toddler is trying to say a word, copy what they are saying. We naturally do this when babies babble – copy the sounds that they make to show them that they have been heard. This is the same with your toddler. From here, your toddler will start to copy you and your words, expanding their talking skills
- Describe and comment: narrate and describe what your child is doing. If they are playing with a ball, say, “You are bouncing the ball — up and down it goes”
- Avoid testing/being negative: Your child is trying their hardest to learn, it is best to meet their efforts with positivity to ensure they keep trying. You can expand on what they say rather than correct them. For example, if they say the word “hospital” wrong, instead of responding with “No, we say hospital, try it like me”, you can say “yes, that’s the hospital”
- Be specific with your praise: Saying “good job” or “well done” is simple for us to say, but it’s not helping your child understand exactly what they did well. Try adding what they did correctly into your praise – e.g. “good job packing away your toys”. You can become more and more specific as your child gets older and understands more
- Read together: Reading together with your children is good for them, no matter what age they are. Babies and toddlers probably won’t stay on one page for too long, at this stage the focus is on engaging their interest and encouraging them to communicate about what they are experiencing. You can label what they are looking at/pointing to. Don’t force them to read if they don’t want to, but try to have books available to look at in your home.
- Play turn taking games: It’s easy to take charge of the conversation as an adult, however it’s so important to give them a turn too. This gives them the opportunity to exercise communication skills, even if it doesn’t involve talking
What do I do if I still have concerns for my child?
If you feel like your child isn’t meeting their milestones or you are concerned about their talking, contact our friendly Family Experience Officers and book your child in for an assessment with a speech pathologist or to your local speech therapy for kids institution. Rather than taking a “wait and see” approach, the research tells us that it is best for our children to get started with an assessment and therapy early!