By the time your child becomes a toddler, you’ll notice that he understands far more than he can communicate. This is because even before leaving the womb, your child has been listening and learning from the language that surrounds him. But it’s not until children are between 12 and 18 months that they start using actual words to communicate.
Eventually, your child will abandon babble and start forming coherent two-word sentences. During the toddler years a child’s language skills develop rapidly. So much so that when he’s three years old his vocabulary could consist of up to 1,000 words.
The foundation for successful language development starts with appropriate language experiences at home. Here are some surefire ways to encourage the gift of gab in your toddler.
Read All About It
Reading books to toddlers is one of the best ways to nurture their verbal skills. So make a point to read to your child daily. Books not only entertain youngsters, they contribute to language development by reinforcing concepts, invoking thought, and introducing new words into their vocabulary. Toddlers have short attention spans, and they love to look at pictures, so the books you read to your youngster should contain vivid illustrations, and simple words. Toddlers also relish books that have plenty of rhymes and repetition. Some great book selections for toddlers include The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (Philomel Books, 1994), and Yummy Yucky by Leslie Patricelli (Candlewick Press, 2003).
When you finish reading a book to your toddler, discuss the story with him. “Talk about the pictures, colors, and characters in the book. You can even expand on your reading selection by doing related activities while you talk about the story,” says toddler teacher Amanda Harris. If you have an older toddler, ask him to draw a picture of his favorite part of the book, and then allow him to tell you about the drawing when he’s done.
Talk it Out
Having conversations with youngsters improves their understanding of concepts and helps build their vocabulary. So regularly engage your toddler in plenty of verbal interaction throughout the day. You can do this by explaining everyday activities to your child. For instance, when you do a load of laundry, you can say, “Mommy’s washing clothes.” And whenever your toddler talks to you, give him your undivided attention, and maintain eye contact.
Toddlers like to get straight to the point, so they tend to talk in two-word phrases—only using the most important words to get their point across. To encourage your toddler to use complete sentences, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association suggests that you repeat what your child says indicating that you understand, and then build and expand on what was said.
When a toddler spends time around other children it can motivate him to start talking. “Even if your child is not actively communicating with others, he’s watching, and listening to how the children around him use language to communicate,” says early childhood teacher Maggie Ward. If your toddler doesn’t attend a daycare program, allow him to go to a playgroup once a week, or plan play dates in the home.
You can give your toddler plenty of practice grasping difficult sounds by helping him exercise the muscles he needs to form these sounds. If you put peanut butter behind your toddler’s teeth and encourage him to lick it off with the tip of his tongue, this will help him form the seemingly impossible letter “L” sound. And letting your toddler blow soap bubbles can give him the skills he needs to make the “W” sound. You can also stand in front of the mirror and make exaggerated facial expressions while you enunciate letter sounds with your toddler.
Seek Help When Needed
All children are unique, and they develop at their own pace, so never compare your toddler’s development to that of another child. But if your child is not forming simple sentences by the time he’s three years old, or grunts to communicate instead of using words, there may be an underlying problem that needs to be addressed by a medical professional, or a speech-language pathologist.
Quality verbal experiences in the home are essential to encourage talking in your young child. So when you engage in regular chats with your toddler, read to him daily, allow interaction with peers, and help with letter sounds, you are giving him the tools he needs to achieve language development success.