So she has spoken her first words. Probably taken her first steps too. Babbles a lot, understands instructions like ‘no’ and still chooses to ignore them. Welcome to ‘toddlerhood’! As our kids wave goodbye to babyhood and enter the exciting (!) land of toddlerhood, our role in helping language and speech development evolves. So while tips discussed in Talking to babies still apply, (except for Motionese which loses its impact around 15 months of age) there are many more ways in which we can support our toddler’s developing speech. Some of the popular strategies that experts suggest to encourage our toddlers to talk are:
1. Self Talk :
This is like giving a running commentary of what we are doing, as we do it. Through self talk we describe and explain our every day actions to our toddler.
Hubsu and I try to start every meal by showing and describing to Riku what he is about to eat.
“What are we eating today? We are going to eat spinach, potato and rice. Doesn’t Riku love spinach?Just like Popeye and Dada. Look at the green colored spinach and white colored rice”
“You want an orange? Here let me give you a piece of orange. You know what oranges have? Lots of Vitamin C..yes Vitamin C to help Riku fight his cold..dhishum dhishum”
During bath/dressing up
Confession – we have long given up trying to have long meaningful conversations with our 14 month old while bathing him or getting him dressed. We are too busy trying to get him to be still FOR JUST ONE SECOND PLEASE!! But whenever we can, we try to get a few words out especially about body parts or the clothes he’s about to wear.
The possibilities are endless…you can talk when you go to the park, at the shopping mall, while playing, while travelling.
While repetition is good for toddlers, variety of words is important too. Look for ways to introduce new words in the same situations. Like until a few months ago, we were more focused on object labeling. Now we try to go beyond labeling, to describing the color, shape, texture, feature, uses, etc. of the same object.
The sooner you start talking, the more effortless it becomes. And before you realize, it becomes a habit.
2. Parallel Talk
Like self talk, this is also a running commentary but in this we comment on what the child is doing.
Any daily activity with our toddler is good for parallel talk but play time gives us the most opportunities.
“Oh lovely look at how well you stacked those cups! Which cup will you stack next Riku?”
“You’re giving Blueberry (favorite teddy, gets more hugs than Mamma Dada put together) a hug! Oh now Blueberry gets a kiss too how sweet! And now you’re taking Blueberry for a walk in the living room”
3. Expansion & Extension
These strategies are mainly used for toddlers who already say 2-3 word sentences.
Expansion means expanding the words spoken by the child and adding 1 or 2 words to make it grammatically correct and complete. We maintain the order of the words spoken by the child and do not add any new information.
Child : “Baby sleep”
Parent : “Yes the baby is sleeping”
This is a short 23 second video from www.talkingchild.org that demonstrates Expansion
In Extension, the parent completes/corrects the sentence grammatically and adds new information
Child : “Baby sleep”
Parent: “The baby is sleeping peacefully in her cot”
Speech pathologist Kimberly Scanlon and author of the book My Toddler Talks explains Expansion and Extension in her blog post
4. Create temptations for them to communicate
In this strategy parents create situations that would tempt the child to communicate. For instance we could place a favorite toy out of reach but within sight and wait for the child to ask for it. Or we could start doing an activity she loves, like tickling her, and stop midway and wait for her to ask for more.
We have gradually started practicing this with Riku. Like when he wants his favorite food and he points to it, we act like we don’t understand what he is pointing at. He starts getting impatient, points harder and often ends up using his word for the food like “Chi chi chi” for cheese or “la la” for orange (I have no idea why orange is la, but it consistently is)
Speech pathologist Becca Jarzynski explains some useful steps for creating communication temptations in her blog post.
5. Turn taking and Imitation
When I first read about teaching a child through imitation, I thought it was all about getting the child to imitate what the parent was doing or saying. I was surprised to learn that it actually begins with the parent imitating the toddler!
For example, if the toddler is playing and babbling “ba ba”, we imitate her saying “ba ba”. She may then go “da da”, and we imitate “da da”. Soon the child gets a sense of the ‘game’. She begins to understand the concept of turn-taking and becomes more aware of our actions. This sets the stage for her to imitate our actions or words.
As soon as I read about this, I decided to test this. This morning while my 14 month old was snacking on pomegranate, he started babbling happily (lovvves pomegranate)
Riku : “Gi gi…gi gi”
Me : “Gi gi gi gi”
Riku : (Bangs the tray of his booster chair) Thad thad thad
Me : (Bang the dining table) Thad thad thad
Riku : (Grins as he starts to understand what I was doing, starts banging again)
Me : (bang again…thad thad….pause, look at him and hit my palm on my forehead saying “Oh ho!”
Riku : (Hits his palm on his forehead and giggles)
Though he did not imitate my vocalization “Oh ho”, experts say the imitation of a gesture is also a good response.
This blog post by Heidi Hanks explains the concept of turn taking and imitation very well.
6. Use the power of Choice:
Offering a toddler choice gives him a sense of control over his environment and also feeds his growing sense of independence. The important thing to remember is to always offer choices we can fulfill. These can be simple choices like:
“Would you like to eat an avocado or an orange?”
“Would you like to wear your sandals or closed shoes?”
“Do you want to take your ball or frisbee to the park?”
“Do you want to read Brown Bear or Goodnight Moon?”
By offering options we encourage the toddler to communicate which choice he is interested in. And expansion and extension can beautifully fit into this strategy. So if the toddler says she wants to take a ‘ba’ to the park, we can expand by saying “So you want to take the ball to the park?” or extend by saying “So you want to take your big, blue ball to the park?”
7. Respond Positively
A very important point to remember is to always respond positively to any attempt at communication by our toddler. Always appreciate their efforts and offer encouragement as they try to reach the next level. Riku has many ‘words’ in his vocabulary that are not complete words but consistently refer to the same object or action. Like mi mi is milk, bhu is broom, spoon is pua, kinna is Kindle. We are conscious about never saying “No, that’s not right, it’s not pua it’s spoon”. When he asks for pua we try to positively model the correct word “You want your spoon?”
Speech language pathologist Katie Pedersern of www.letsgrowspeech.com has a short video about parental response to toddler attempts at speech.
Of all the activities we engage in with our toddlers, reading and play time offer us the richest opportunities to use most of the above strategies.
So these are some of the more popular ways we can play our role as language facilitators at home. Are there any other strategies that you use to encourage your toddler to talk?
If you wish to read more on this subject there are some online resources by speech pathologists which I found very useful –
www.talkingkids.org – A very good resource from Becca Jarzynski for parents to facilitate language development. I especially like the section on ‘Strategies’
www.teachmetotalk.com – Just LOVE Laura Mize’s videos about using play to encourage talk. I am learning a lot from her videos.
www.playingwithwords365.com – A website by paediatric speech pathologist Katie, it has some interesting articles on toddler speech.
Disclaimer : These strategies are used for toddlers with or without any developmental speech delays. I am not a speech therapist or a speech pathologist. I am a parent who has keen interest in this area and who is using many of these techniques with my toddler. If you feel your child has a speech delay please contact a professional speech therapist.Follow Us On