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Improve Your Toddler's Speech Development

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Updated on Mar 15, 2012

Pass the 'pasketti! Toddlers often replace tricky words with more kid-friendly versions—such as labeling Big Bird "lellow"—that are downright adorable. However, most two-year-olds have a good grasp of about 100 words, so if your toddler's still sputtering out gibberish, it's understandable why you'd become concerned.

Fear not though; toddler speech development doesn't follow the same patterns in all children, and just like other developmental milestones, some kids will have a tougher time mastering language than their peers. However, there are steps you can take to help get your toddler's inner chatterbox come out, and ensure his phonetical success down the road.

  • Narrate your life. "Parents can encourage their toddler to communicate by labeling objects and actions in real life and in pictures (books)," explains Cory Poland, MA CCC-SLP, Speech Language Pathologist and author of Let's Talk Together. Make a habit of pointing out and discussing everyday activities to help build out your little one's vocabulary. "Look, mommy's making breakfast on the hot stove. Yellow eggs and toast sound yummy!"
  • Keep it simple. While it can be counterproductive to simply goo-goo and ga-ga with your tiny talker, Poland says, "It is helpful for parents to use slow, simple speech when talking to their child." Opt to use terms that are easy to sound out—such as swapping "closet" for your go-to "armoire"—to help your child gain the confidance needed to tackle simple words. Once he's mastered those, move on to a more advanced vocabulary.
  • Push pronunciation. Make your child use his words. "Parents can create situations where toddlers can use verbal communication to get what they want," Poland says. "For example, rather than placing a bowl full of Cheerios on your child's tray for snacktime, place three to five Cheerios. Encourage your child to verbalize and make eye contact to ask you for 'more'. Once your child asks for more, either through sign language, a verbalization, or a word, praise him and immediately offer more Cheerios."
  • Get your groove on. You may warble along to the radio, but even your off-key singing can help kickstart conversation. Your kid loves music (pitchy or not) that stimulates his senses, and encouraging him to belt out a tune will make learning speech easier. Additionally, supply him with whistles, kazoos and flutes—blowing into these instruments helps to develop the muscles around his mouth, which might not have formed properly yet.
  • Muscle strengthening. If your toddler isn't speaking as clearly as you'd like him to, pick up a bottle of bubbles and blow. Like playing musical instruments, blowing bubbles can strengthen your toddler's mouth muscles and improve his speech. While you're at it, ditch that sippy cup and opt for a straw instead, which can act to exercise the muscles crucial for properly sounding out words.
  • Read. Reading's obviously fundamental for building language, and it provides an opportunity for your baby to express himself. Choose a bedtime story, and make it interactive by pointing to pictures, naming objects, talking about the colors, and asking your toddler about what's happening. He'll become familiar with the rhythm of your voice, and be introduced to new words.
  • What's in the box? Children learn best by playing games, so turn off the TV and start collecting bric-a-brac from around the house. "The 'What's in the box?' game encourages beginning word development and vocabulary," says Poland. "Place an object, such as a baby doll on the floor and cover it with a cardboard box so that it is hidden from view. Ask your child, 'What's under the box?', and have him take a peek. Label the item...by saying, 'You found the baby!' and encourage your child to do the same. Praise your child once he attempts to say the name of the object."
  • Force choices. It's easy for parents to talk for their kids, but, to encourage speech, force yourself to give your toddler a choice, so he'll speak for himself. Instead of asking, "Do you want milk?," offer a choice by asking, "Would you like milk or juice?" The same rule goes for moving certain toys and objects out of reach. Instead of just pointing to something he wants, he'll be forced to ask for the object instead.
  • Chat it up. Have as many conversations as you can. Although your toddler might only be able to respond with babble, ask him questions, talk about what you're doing and why, and point out objects around the house. Just as you would speak with any adult, remember to give him time to talk and respond to what you've said. The more your toddler is exposed to words and conversation, the better.

Learning a new language is never easy, so have patience as your baby develops. Keep an eye on age-based guidelines for speech, but don't lose it if your baby's not meeting standards. "It is important to remember that these guidelines are just estimates and there is a wide range of what is considered normal," says Amy Chouinard, MA CCC-SLP. "If you feel your child is behind, it is important to talk to your pediatrician about a possible referral for a speech-language evaluation by a pediatric speech pathologist."

By reinforcing the basic rules of communication and being a positive role model for your toddler, before you know it, you'll have a catalogue of hilarious words your toddler coined growing up, 'pasketti' and all.

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