Today we tackle another set of those important questions a lot of parents have. I don’t usually tackle them in sets, but this is such a hot topic among parents I think it needs it!
How to help a toddler talk?
How to encourage a child to talk?
Are there tips to help a toddler talk?
I have heard these questions many times as a preschool teacher of over ten years, and it is vital we get to the bottom of them and provide some answers. We will start by looking at why speech is so important and how a young child develops it. Then we will try to give specific tips to help toddler talk. As well as activities to help toddlers talk. It’s going to be a long one! Therefore…..
For those of you that don’t want to read a massive article to get to those tips, here’s the short answer! In order to give our child the best chance at being a “talker”, we need to surround our child in a language rich environment. We can do this by reading to our child, playing language based games and even having a good old sing song. By giving them this language rich environment, and letting them talk in their own time, we are setting them up for success!
And if you don’t intend reading the finer details, please skip to near the end of the article to get more details on those tips to create a language rich environment! I will even put a nice quick navigation thingy below to make this simple to do!!
The strategies and tips here should be applied as young as possible. The earlier we start, the more likely our child is to grow up with good communication skills.
Now we get to dive deeper into all that theory stuff!! We don’t just want to make some “fluff” piece on “the top 10 tips on helping your toddler speak”, we also want to help you understand the reasons behind this! You can provide much better support as a parent when you understand these reasons!
Why is speech so important?
Humans are social animals that consume and dish out a very high level of language. Have you ever seen a monkey reading a book?
Yes, animals can communicate, but in a very primitive form. Us humans are lucky to have a complex understanding or written and spoken language.
What this means is that language and communication is all around us. For many people, it is an essential element to finding “success” in their lives. Don’t get me wrong, some people will excel even if they don’t have great spoken language skills. But, for a lot of people, these skills are a vital piece in the puzzle.
Go look at many job advertisements and see how many state things such as “effective communication skills” and such like. For many situations in life, being able to communicate well is a key component.
How do toddlers and babies pick up language?
Before we think more about how to help a toddler talk, we need to go deeper. We need to understand how this language is aquired in the first place.
Babies and young children are like sponges, and are designed to absorb everything around them. Language is a part of this.
I have seen this many times in my teaching career. I have worked with children around the age of 4 to 5 years old. They come into my class with literally zero English knowledge. In most cases, after a year in my class, they are able to hold a decent conversation and explain a lot of things in English.
I find this amazing! Can you imagine how much faster this is with babies and younger children?
In general, our brains slow down and it becomes harder for us to learn new things with age.
This article from ABC News highlights some of the finer points of this, if you care to do further reading.
What role do parents have?
Is it important that you invest in the latest learning toys for your child?
Is it essential that you pay for the most expensive school you can afford?
All of these things may help, but are nowhere near as important as you! YES, YOU!!
Parents are the people that are with their children more than most others. They are the first people that their children see and who they try to talk to first.
Your child is role modelling their speech and language development on YOU.
We have talked about the importance of being a good role model in so many other articles on Best Case Parenting. It’s exactly the same here, you are the key to encouraging your child to talk! When asked about tips to help a toddler talk, this is the main one!
A professor at the University of Massachusetts did something which has become quite a key talking point when it comes to parenting a young child or baby. They did something called a “still face experiment”. First the parent interacted with their baby in a regular way, laughing and cooing at them. The baby responds in a positive fashion, cooing back to the parent. Then the parent turns their back on the baby. When they turn back they show no reaction to their baby, giving them a “still face”. You can watch the video below to see what happened.
The social interaction that a child gets from their parents is vital. Of course, this research is showing the worst case scenario and I wouldn’t expect most parents to ignore their babies or toddlers in this way. Certainly not for extended periods.
I have had some personal experience in my teaching career. I worked with two particular busy parents. They both worked busy jobs and had hired nannies to look after their child. These nannies looked after this child for several years until they found out something shocking. They were leaving the child unattended for long periods of time and not interacting with the child at all.
This child had quite severe speech delay problems and, in my mind, a lot of this was caused by the lack of adult interaction the child had.
Again, this is an extreme case. I just want to highlight strongly that the interactions your child has with you is of critical importance. The more you can improve this connection, the better the chance of their early language development.
The interactions you have with your baby or young child form the type of communication they see and learn from.
Research was done in 1995 by American education researchers Hart & Risley. They were looking into the factors behind children’s apparent success or lack of success at kindergarten age. They did a deep study into the background of children. What they discovered was that it didn’t matter how much money the parents had to buy toys. It didn’t matter about things such as race or where they lived.
What did matter, was the amount of interaction the children had with their parents. In this particular study they noted that, in general, the children from families where the parents had a professional background used a lot more vocabulary. They found those parents spent longer talking and interacting with their children.
I don’t want to get hung up on the political nature of their findings. I just want to use this again to highlight the importance of talking to your child as much as possible.
Even when you feel like you are talking to yourself, keep the dialogue going. This will help your child’s language development greatly. Every word you say is stimulating your child’s brain. The more these words are repeated, the stronger the stimulation will get. On the flip side, if words are not repeated, the connection in your child’s brain is getting dimmer.
As a teacher, there are times when I have had to do a similar thing. I may be working alongside a child on an activity they are leading. I will often give a running dialogue in the background to help the child’s thought process.
I would recommend, as a parent of a young child, to always keep that dialogue going. Whether you are having a direct conversation or giving a commentary of what is happening (or your thoughts), it is equally as important.
Also be careful with your questioning. You don’t want your child to feel bombarded with questions, like a job interview! Just naturally intersperse questions from time to time amongst the dialogue you are communicating to your child.
CAN’T I JUST USE TECHNOLOGY TO DO THE SAME THING?
With the advent of more and more technology in our lives, I am sure some people wonder whether this could play a similar role as we can see in the parent – child interactions. Can you put a child in front of a computer software or a string of language rich DVD’s and hope for the same results?
The fast answer is….NO.
The key word here is interaction. Go watch that “still face” research video again and revel at the level of interaction between the mother and child. In fact, this is what makes the “Still face” part so hard for many of us to watch! You cannot replace this with technology. The parent-child interaction is a rich and two way thing of beauty. You cannot replace this with the mostly one sided communication offered by DVD’s and computer software. This may change many years in the future, who knows, but right now human contact has no substitute!
It is a bit like when we talk about play based learning as teachers. This is championed and well known as being the best style of learning for most young children. This is because they are performing an action whilst learning. If you sit a young child down and simply try to talk at them and teach them traditionally, the level of retention wouldn’t be the same.
Children will get some benefit from language rich technologies, but it is still far and away from what they would get from quality interaction with a parent.
When you ask yourself “How to help my toddler talk?” don’t rely too heavily on technology.
WHY IS THIS LANGUAGE THING SO IMPORTANT?
When Hart & Risley did their research, they didn’t just stop there. They returned to the same children to see what had happened to them five years down the road. They noticed that the children that had been exposed to more words as a young child, were continuing to develop their language better than those who had lower exposure. The gap was continuing to widen.
The language that you expose your child to when they are young, will help them for the REST of their life.
I see it like building a wall. You need to build a solid base or foundation of the wall first. By giving your child a language rich environment when they are growing up, this is exactly what you are doing.
You are giving them the head start they need for a lifetime of language excellence.
HOW CAN I TALK TO MY CHILD SO MUCH?
So, we have worked out that a young child’s exposure to language helps it to develop that language much better. I have already talked about keeping a constant running dialogue with your child, talking to them even when not in a direct conversation.
However, I thought I would finish this article with some practical ideas of activities to help toddlers talk. If you struggle with keeping the language dialogue up, this may give you some ideas how to improve it.
READ TO YOUR BABY OR TODDLER
Story books offer an exceptional source of language for your child. By reading to them regularly, you are increasing their exposure to this language. The other reason that this is great is that your child may hear new words that you don’t usually use. Most people have language habits and tend to use certain language in everyday situations. By reading, you are effectively hearing another persons dialogue and, thus, you may encounter different words and language patterns.
A lot of children’s books also include repeating language patterns too, something which is incredibly important for a young child to build language.
I wrote an article here about my favourite story books for kids. This could be a good starting point.
There are so many excellent children’s books out there, that your child will love. Building them up a high quality book library at home is one of the key steps in surrounding them in a language rich environment.
Taking your child on regular trips to your local library is also a great way to harness the power of books. I have many fond memories as a child myself going to the local library with my mum and searching through all the books!
As well as reading books to your child, you can also encourage them to get involved in reading by showing them your love of books too. Being a great role model is an important part, as your child will naturally look up to you and want to copy what you do!
USE THE POWER OF SONG
A lot of people don’t associate singing with language development. But by singing songs, a child is being exposed to a wide variety of words. They are also practising pronunciation of those words and the pattern of language. These are all vital in developing a young child’s language skills.
If you are a musical person, this could be a great way to engage your child in language.
Even if you are not, you will find a great resource of songs for young children on the internet. My personal favourite is Debbie & Friends.
In recent years we have seen a resurgence of musical films too! These are great ways to expose your child to engaging and epic songs. If anything will help your child enjoy music, these will.
Failing that, you can turn to our old favourite Disney! They have been churning out films with excellent musical elements for many years.
The magic of film and song will be a incredibly fun and engaging way for your child to be surrounded by a high level of language!
INCLUDE YOUR CHILD IN ROUTINES
It could be cooking or cleaning around the house. Whatever it is, you can include your child. Tell them what you are doing! Tell them why you are doing it. Routines cover an incredible amount of language. As the routine is a regular thing, this language will get repeated – GREAT!
Cooking together is a great example of this. Cooking is not only a cool way to show your child science in a practical way (how materials change, etc.), but it is also an excellent way to demonstrate and use language with your child. Describing what you are doing, what will happen next and discussing along the way. I love cooking with young kids, and often they love it too.
You might also think why a young child would want to do such mundane tasks like cleaning floors! You would be surprised. Children love copying adults and (hopefully) they see the adults in their home cleaning. A lot of children also enjoy using authentic adult tools, such as a simple dust pan and brush. Go on, try it! You will be surprised!
HARNESS THE POWER OF ROLE PLAY
From a young age, children love to mimic what they see adults doing. There is an immense amount of role play that can come from this.
Maybe you often visit a vet and your child seems to enjoy this. You can buy some vet role play resources and encourage your child to “play vet” with you. Role play is always language rich and fun too!!
If you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg buying role play toys for your child, then simply use the power of empty boxes. Those boxes could turn into a plane for your child to pilot….or a package for them to pack and deliver! Whatever it turns out to be, it will be language rich!
SOFT TOYS AND PUPPETS
Need to know how to encourage a child to talk? Stick a puppet on their hand!!!
A lot of children love soft toys or puppets. In my classroom, I often have a soft toy as a mascot. The children really respond well to this. They find holding conversations or answering questions from the class mascot far more engaging and fun!
You can use these soft toys or puppets to act out different everyday situations or activities with your child. This will naturally become a language rich activity, as well as being an excellent way to encourage your child to talk. Talking through a puppet can be a motivating factor for some children.
I have even found that some shy children feel more empowered to talk through a puppet and practise language, especially when engaged in some kind of game or role play scenario.
Get an old box from your local supermarket and turn into a home puppet theatre! You can paint and decorate it at home with your child and have hours of fun setting up “shows”, making tickets for those shows etc. etc. Can you imagine how much language is involved in the whole process??
You can use these puppets and soft toys to act out known stories, or make your own versions of these stories. Instead of “The Three Little Pigs” maybe your child wants to make “The Three Little Robots”. Instead of the wolf blowing down houses, maybe your child will choose his characters to be driving cars that the wolf will crash into! Making their own versions of known stories is also a great bridge to coming up with completely new stories.
Your child will love being exposed to different sensory activities. This could take the form of different textured tiles, some gooey cornflour slime or whatever else you can think up.
These sensory activities will always generate language. What does the material feel like? Which one is your favourite? Etc. etc. By stimulating a child’s senses, you are also stimulating them to talk about the whole experience!
PLAY LANGUAGE GAMES
Most young children love it when you turn things into games. They will be encouraged to talk, whilst at the same time having fun.
There are so, so many excellent language games you can play! Far too many to go into detail here. But I will try to give you some good examples as a starting point. After that, Google is definitely your friend here 🙂
There are some real classic language games such as “I spy, with my little eye”. You can play the traditional format of “……something beginning with S” for your child to guess the object you are thinking of by it’s initial sound. You could also change this to “…..something you can use to drink water.” Then, the game turns more into a describing game, and thus a wider range of language is used.
Using old telephones is also a surprisingly awesome way to encourage your child to talk! Simply find some old telephones or cell phones to use a props. Hold one to your ear and make a pretend ringing sound. Your child will pretend to pick up the call with their pretend phone and away you go! The best way to start this game is for the adult to model this first by taking a pretend phone call from someone else. This will give your child the idea of the game and encourage them to have a go.
Simply holding a regular conversation such as “what did you do at school today?” with old telephones will make it much more fun for the child. Or you could include in your role play games, such as the vet example given above! I often find that children love acting out being in an office, for example. Picking up and making phone calls!
SIMPLY TAKE TIME TO PLAY WITH YOUR CHILD!
I know that a lot of parents are busy and don’t always have the time to play with their children daily. If you can re-organise your schedule to do this for at least 30 minutes a day, you will be giving your child so much exposure to language and the engagement that goes with it.
We always talk about how, when you do activities related to the child’s interests, they will be self motivated to complete it. Therefore, playing alongside a child with their favourite toys is something they will take great pleasure in. Get down on the floor with them, give a running dialogue of what is happening in your play and ask questions from time to time. The language opportunities are endless and the setup is minimal!
No matter how busy you are as parents, take time out of your day to do this.
JUST BE NATURAL!
I see so many adults that start talking “all funny” when they talk to young children. They start talking all slowly and in an over simplified baby language. Just talk to your child in a normal and natural way. Yes, you may have to dumb down some elements of your language to help your child understand, but don’t be afraid to include some technical or complex words. Your child learns new words by being exposed to them over time!
I don’t know why adults always have this idea to talk to children in such a funny way, is it from the movies? Or they think by exaggerating all their words they are making the conversation more fun for their child? This may be true for babies, but there is no need for toddlers and older! The fun will come in what you do with your child, not the way you talk!! So, please stop it 🙂
Trust me, I even see qualified preschool teachers that do this and it grinds my gears (if you can’t tell already!).
Wow, that was a long article! If you got to the end, well done! Language development is one of the major developmental areas for a child and therefore it creates a lot of interest for parents. I hope you understand why we had to make such a long winded piece about it! Our idea was to make the ultimate resource for parents on the subject, and we hope we have achieved that!
Sincerely, we hope we have gone a way to answering these questions at the very least….how to help my toddler talk? How to encourage a child to talk? As well as giving tips and activities that will help your toddlers talk.
This is one of the most important things you can provide for your young child, a language rich environment for them to grow up in.
It is NOT about forcing your child to talk. I see so many parents prompting their children to answer a question or even just say hello. When you give a child pressure to talk, this very same pressure could be the thing that is stopping them talking. Give your child a language rich environment, time and a lot of encouragement! You will have a much greater chance of success when you do this.
We would love to hear your experiences too! Do you have suggestions for activities to help toddlers talk? Do you have tips to help a toddler talk? We are trying to build a caring and sharing community here.
Feel free to discuss this further in the comment section below. We always love to here tips and advice other parents may have!
Wow, I think I need to go take a rest now!! ha ha!!