When your toddler isn’t talking, it can be worrying and frustrating. Delayed language can have a knock-on impact for schooling and beyond, so it’s important to prioritize language development from an early age. These are five easy tips for how to encourage toddlers to talk from a certified SLP!
If you want more tips and exercises to encourage toddlers to talk, check out my big book of 50 easy exercises to get your toddler talking!
5 Easy Tips To Encourage Toddlers to Talk
1. GIVE THEM A REASON TO TALK
Making sure you give your toddler a reason to talk is one the simplest ways to encourage toddlers to talk.
All you need to do is to take a step back and give a little space for language. Instead of rushing to help, wait for a moment.
For example, instead of peeling a banana and handing it to your toddler, give it to them with the skin still on. This gives them a reason to communicate with you. They might look at you and make a noise, or hold the banana out.
You could say, ‘yes? do you need help?’
Your toddler will likely make another noise or continue holding the banana out.
You can say, ‘ohh, you want it open. Open. Ok I’ll open it for you. Open.’
You have repeated the word that they need in this situation four times! Your toddler has heard the word at a time when it’s in context and relevant– this will help them to learn it for themselves.
This is a fantastic way to encourage toddlers to talk, as it’s ‘in the moment coaching‘.
Remember that that isn’t just a one time technique. When you do this each time your toddler is having a banana, soon they will be able to ask you for help themselves.
Don’t use this technique to the point where your toddler actually gets frustrated. Just use it enough to teach them that their words have an impact. You can use this strategy in lots of different situations throughout the day.
You are giving them a reason to communicate!
2. LABEL WORDS FOR THEM
Get into the habit of labeling. What do I mean by this?
It’s simple- name everything! Point out things and give them names. Also pay attention to what your toddler is looking at or pointing to, and name it for them. Your toddler will absorb words better when you name the things that they are interested in and focused on.
Make your voice sound exciting as you name the thing for your toddler. Make sure that you say it a few times. You can also feed in some extra words.
‘Wow a car!! I like the car. It’s a big car.”
Remember that labelling is more than just giving the object names of things. You can also label action words (he’s jumping/ skipping/ swimming), descriptive words (adjectives such as big/small, or adverbs such as slowly/ quickly) and location words (e.g. under, beside, inside, on, in, behind).
This technique encourages toddlers to talk because you are actively building their understanding of words. Toddlers must understand a word really well before they will start to use it for themselves.
Want a little more?
Grab your free copy of the Speech and Language Strategies Essential Cheat Sheets. Print off and use to help with these strategies to boost your child’s speech and language.
3. USE COMMENTS INSTEAD OF QUESTIONS
Using comments instead of asking questions sounds easy to do. However, it can be deceptively difficult!
As adults, sometimes we ask far more questions than we think we are asking. This happens especially when your toddler isn’t talking much, and you want to draw language out of them.
It might be questions such as:
- What’s that?
- What color is that/ animal is that/ are you doing/ eating?
Of course, we already know the answer- we just want to get some words out! It feels like a natural way to get a conversation going.
However, it can very quickly become a pattern of question after question. If you counted your ration of questions to comments, you might be surprised at just how many questions you ask.
What’s wrong with questions?
The pressure of a question is much higher than a comment, and it can very quickly make your child anxious.
Often they don’t yet have the vocabulary to answer the question. In this case, asking a question doesn’t teach them anything, it only puts pressure on the conversation.
Or, maybe they can answer the question. In this case, they always could. You still haven’t taught them anything new- only squeezed out what they already know. This usually doesn’t create a conversation. Your child knows that they are being tested. Often you might just get silence or a one word answer. Usually the interaction here ends very quickly.
Either way, your child has not learnt anything new!
Questions cause the conversational power to be on one person. Often we use it as a testing tool, and to squeeze language out. This can cause children to switch off or become passive. And it isn’t providing a good language model for your toddler.
Instead, turn your questions into comments, feed language in rather than squeeze it out, and teach, don’t test.
Think of it as a sponge- the aim is to feed language in, not to squeeze it out. This will encourage your toddler to talk and will build their language up.
Give lots of wait time for your child to say something if they want, but without the pressure of a question. Then you will be teaching, not testing.
Start to notice the ratio of questions to comments that you use, and the effect that this has.
How can you do this?
You can easily flip your question around into a comment. Instead of asking, “what are you doing?” you might say, “Wow, you’re jumping in puddles!” If you’re reading a book, instead of asking “what’s the bear doing?” you could say, “look, the bear is eating a fish.”
By labeling language in this low pressure way, you are teaching your toddler and providing a fantastic language environment.
See if you can make four comments before asking a question. And remember to give lots of wait time after each comment- count to at least five in your head. This gives your toddler a chance to join in the conversation if they want to.
Often it’s when the pressure is off that kids will become really chatty and use lots of language.
Challenge yourself to make four comments before asking one question. You’ll notice a difference!
4. READ WITH YOUR CHILD
Read lots of books with your toddler to encourage them to talk. Books provide a platform to expose your child to new and exciting vocabulary that they don’t encounter in everyday life (e.g. jungle animals).
Here are some tips to read with your toddler to encourage language:
- Let your toddler choose the book. It’s important that they are motivated by and interested in what they are reading. This way, when you label words for them, they are more likely to absorb them.
- Don’t worry about the words initially. Have fun looking at the pictures and label these for your child. Make your voice interesting and excited.
- Draw their attention to the ‘story’. This might be how the characters are feeling, what the problem is, what might happen, and how it ends. For example: ‘uhoh, he’s going to fall!’ or ‘aww he looks sad.’
- I often recommend reading a book twice– once to look at the pictures and once to tell the story.
- It’s OK to read a favourite book over and over again if that’s what your toddler wants. Repetition helps language to grow!
You might also enjoy:
- 5 Surprising Skills to Build Before You Teach Your Toddler the Alphabet
- 5 Little Known Tips to Teach Your Toddler to Read
5. SING RHYMES WITH YOUR CHILD
Rhymes are, without a doubt, more than a little out of fashion.
The thing is, they are repetitive, fun, and have a great rhythm- all things that can help to boost your toddler’s language.
Rhymes are a brilliant way to encourage toddlers to talk- especially when they have not yet said their first word.
Pick a few rhymes to teach your toddler. Your voice is far better than a recording, so teach the rhyme yourself rather than through YouTube or an audio file.
Try having a special time each day where you sit down and sing these rhymes together. My favorites are the ones with actions (e.g. ‘Incy Wincy Spider’ where the spider crawls up the arm, or ‘Round and Round the Garden’ where you do the actions on your toddler’s palm). These are so much fun for kids and your toddler will probably be pretty engaged!
Once they start learning the rhyme off, leave the last word of a line off and look at them expectantly.
For example, ’round and round the garden goes the teddy….??’
Make your face really excited and obvious that you want them to say the word. If not, just finish the line for them and keep persisting with this strategy. The better they know it, the more likely they are to join in. Repetition is key!
If your toddler does join in and say the word- amazing! Your toddler is learning new words! This is a great stepping stone to using more and more language in everyday life.
50 Easy Exercises to Get Your Toddler Talking
If you enjoyed these tips to encourage toddlers to talk, check out my big book of 50 easy exercises to get your toddler talking!
Available as a paperback or an eBook, you will have an huge choice of exercises to help your toddler talk in the way that’s best suited to them and your family.
And that’s it!
I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences- which strategies worked for to get your toddler talking? Which strategies here are you most excited to try? Comment below and let me know!
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