Remember that magical moment when your tot uttered his first word? Seems like ages ago doesn’t it? Actually, since that day a few months ago things have moved on oh-so-quickly. He’s amassed a varied vocabulary and has all the words that are most useful to him day to day. Now it’s time to move on to holding simple conversations with a little bit of help from mummy and daddy.
Try these tips to turn your babbler into a confident communicator…
1) Social chit-chat
“Give your toddler plenty of opportunities to be around other adults and children as this will give him a chance to practise his talking skills,” says speech and language therapist Jude Dawson.
“But it’s important you don’t put him on the spot. Saying things like, ‘Tell grandma what we had for lunch’ may put him under pressure, especially if he’s feeling tired and unmotivated to talk. A simple statement like, ‘We had ham sandwiches for lunch,’ can be more effective, as then your toddler can decide whether or not he wants to join in the conversation.”
2) Listen carefully
“Some parents think that if they talk continually to their toddler they’re doing the right thing,” says Jude. “But sometimes less is more. This is because a toddler needs extra time to process what you’re saying before he can respond. So make sure you pause often and wait to give him plenty of time to respond.”
When you’re having a conversation, try not to jump in too quickly either – as tempting as it is to finish your toddler’s sentences off for him, it won’t help him to improve. Remember a conversation is a two-way process.
3) Follow the leader
“One of the most effective ways parents can support their toddler’s communication skills is to let them take the lead,” says Jude. This means getting involved in whatever he’s doing but not taking over.
“If your toddler is leading the play he’s more likely to enjoy the activity, and he’ll be more motivated to talk about it,” adds Jude.
4) Try something new
“When your little one already knows a word, like ball, for example, help him move his talking on by saying to him, ‘Shall we go and kick the ball?’” says Jude.
“This way you’re building on something he already knows and introducing new ideas bit by bit.”
5) Offer support
Sometimes people may not understand what your toddler is saying. Avoid correcting him or getting him to say it again – instead support him by repeating it for him.
“Concentrate on what your toddler says and not how he says it as his speech sounds will still be developing so he may sound unclear at times,” says Jude.
“The most important thing at this stage is that your child is developing into a confident communicator as his speech will become clearer as he gets older.”
6) Questions, questions
Asking your toddler lots of questions may seem like the right thing to do but if you go overboard sometimes it can have the opposite effect as your toddler may become overwhelmed. “Every now and then replace your questions with comments,” suggests Jude. “So instead of saying, ‘Are you enjoying yourself on the swing?’ you could say, ‘It’s fun playing on the swing.’”
7) Why, oh why?
“Why?” is a common question for inquisitive toddlers and one you’ve probably heard a gazillion times. Some will be unanswerable but try not to say, ‘Because that’s the way it is,’ as this may frustrate him. And avoid launching into a huge lecture – keep explanations short and simple.
8) Long words are fun
Many toddlers are fascinated by long words – if he wants to say them encourage him as they can be entertaining.
“If your toddler attempts to say a word and it comes out a bit jumbled praise him for trying as with practice he’ll get it eventually,” says Jude. Then repeat the word back to him so he gets to hear the correct version.
“Millie still asks ‘Why?’ all the time and I always try to answer her if I can as it’s all part of her learning. If I’m unsure of the answer – she recently asked me where sand came from, for example – we look it up together in her children’s encyclopaedia or on the internet. But if she’s continually asking ‘Why?’ to every single answer I give her I can tell she’s doing it for attention, and sometimes I redirect the conversation onto something else!”
Rozel Bray, 37, from Worcester, mum to Elysia, 7, and Millie, 4
“We’ve helped Jake to develop his speech by making sure he always has lots of opportunities to play with other children. This gives him plenty of chances to strike up conversations, but without forcing him into it. It’s also a really good setting for improving his talking as if he wants to join in, or wants help finding a particular toy, he has to ask.”
Anita Gambles, 34, from Northamptonshire, mum to Jake, 3, and Daisy, 13 months
Did you know…
During their first five years, your child will learn on average one to two words every waking hour!