Wondering what you can do to help your little one expand his or her language? Here are some tips and tricks to help get your toddler talking.

Narrating daily routines: Some days there simply isn’t time to play. Narrating daily routines is a simple way to add language to the things you’re already doing with your child. Activities like brushing teeth, changing diapers, getting dressed, eating meals, and getting out the door are all great opportunities for language. For example, while getting dressed: “First, let’s find pants! Pants, up! Hm, blue shirt, or red shirt? Let’s do red! Red shirt, on. Now we need socks! etc. Since these are activities that occur daily, there is ample opportunity to practice and build upon the language in these routines as your child’s language grows.

Withholding This can sound cruel, but it’s not, and it works! Parents and caregivers know their child best and often anticipate what the child wants before he or she even asks. Additionally, many little ones are savvy at using creative means to get what they want. However, every want and request a child has is an opportunity to practice and build language. If your child points to get milk, you can say, “Want MILK? MILK!” Try modeling the word 2-3 times (for them to imitate) before handing it over. Sometimes this strategy involves making small modifications around the home, such as keeping toys away or out of reach, keeping juice higher up in the fridge, etc. Another way to incorporate this strategy is to maintain control of toys, for example blocks, instead of just dumping the whole bag out. You can dump a few, then wait until the child wants more, and model a request if needed (“Want blocks? “More blocks!”) This strategy helps the child learn the power of using language to get what he or she wants, so it’s a motivating way to practice language.

Offering choices: This strategy goes along with withholding. Rather than assuming what your child wants, and rather than asking yes or no questions until you figure it out, offering choices is a great way to build language in a functional way. Even if you know your child wants apple juice, you can say “Want apple juice or milk?” This forces the child to use language to make a choice. Additionally, offering choices gives the child a sense of power to make their own decision while still making a selection that is approved by the adult- a win, win!

Shared book-reading: To get the most out of reading with your child, go beyond just reading the words on the page. Take turns labeling what you see on each page. Think about labeling objects and actions, and using size words, colors, etc. For more advanced little ones, ask questions about what is happening, and encourage your child to make guesses about what will happen next. Use all kinds of questions (keeping in mind that “who”, “what”, and “where” questions are usually the easiest, while “why and how” are more challenging). Changing it up keeps the child engaged and offers so much more opportunity for learning.

Play: Making time to get on the floor and play with your child is so important for language growth. Depending on where your child is developmentally, play can look vastly different, from filling up a bucket and dumping out, to acting out scenes with characters. Taking the child’s lead is an important first step. Labeling what the child is doing and what is happening is a simple way to engage in play with your child.

These are five easy ways to encourage language growth in little ones. When using these strategies, be sure to model language clearly and use short phrases. A good rule of thumb is to use utterances that are just one or two words above the child’s level. For example, if the child is speaking in single words, use 2-3 word utterances when interacting (e.g. instead of saying “Do you want your stuffed animal?” you can say “Want bear?” or instead of “The red car is going fast” you can say “red car fast!”).

Children grow and develop language at different rates, but if you are concerned about your child’s language development, contact National Therapy Center for more information. National Therapy Center can help determine whether a speech and language evaluation is warranted, and offer specific recommendations for your family.

Jessica Safer, M.S. CCC-SLP – National Therapy Center