Language Development

Language Development: 6 Tips on Strengthening Your Toddler’s Language Development

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Do you suspect your toddler has a language delay? Perhaps you’ve watched other children at the park or in a mommy’s playgroup, and noticed that the other children seem to understand and speak more than your child. Or perhaps your child’s speech is difficult to understand, but friends, family, and your child’s doctor suggest a “wait and see” approach.

While there can be a wide range of language ability between children, it’s often parents who first suspect their toddler has poor language development. Unfortunately, they are often told to wait until their child gets older, and regaled with stories of a child who didn’t talk until kindergarten and grew up to be a nuclear physicist.

If you suspect your toddler has a language delay, but have been told to wait a half a year and see what happens- your best bet is to ignore that well-meaning advice and get to work on strengthening your child’s language development.

There are several reasons for doing this, but the most important one is that not helping your child means that a large chunk of time was simply wasted. Taking a proactive approach can’t hurt your child,  but it could significantly help your child catch up to where they need to be.

You don’t need to go overboard, however, and start booking a private speech therapist to work with your child every day. As a parent, you are actually in a great position to help your child improve their language development in a nonthreatening, fun environment.

Here are some tips you can use to start helping your toddler today:

1) Sing throughout the day with your child. It’s natural for most parents to sing to their toddlers. The key word here, though, it with, not to. Choose simple songs – nursery rhyme songs are the ideal length- and encourage your toddler to sing along with you.

You can do this by singing a whole line and then stopping, letting your child fill in the blank. This helps build your toddler’s auditory memory, an area that is often weak in children with delayed language development.

2) Teach your child songs with gestures. Songs like “The Wheels on the Bus,” “Little Bunny Foo-Foo,” and “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” are great ways of helping build your toddler’s auditory and motor memory. Choose a set time each day to do them, and it will be easy to make sure your child gets practice every day.

3) Read to your child. You know you’re supposed to read to your child, but did you know that how you read can make the difference between peanut butter and jelly and a submarine?

Don’t just read the story to your child, occasionally pointing out a picture or two. Use the book as a jumping board for discussing other topics as well. You don’t have to cover everything at once; chances are if your toddler likes the book, you’ll likely be reading it more often than you like.

4) Mirror your child’s speech. Some parents, in their quest to raise little Einsteins, speak to their toddlers as if they were already in middle school.

While this might be fine for some children, children with weak language development get lost with this type of language. Instead, if your child is speaking 2-3 word sentences, then when you ask them where your favorite pen is or what they’d like to eat, you should too.

You won’t hinder your child’s progress; on the contrary, speaking on their level means they will finally be able to understand you. Try it - you’ll see progress in a week or two, guaranteed.

5) Give them lots of experiences. Parenting toddlers is tiring work. It’s easy to fall into the habit of going to the park, to the store, and perhaps a friend’s house.

However, your toddler needs lots of different experiences in order to build their vocabulary, learn new ideas, and practice new skills. Before you start packing for Disneyland, keep in mind that there are many places you can take your toddler right in your own neighborhood.

For example, take a walk to a local bakery, and show your child all the different foods that are there. Your child will learn the names of some common (or not so common) foods, and perhaps have a chance to see how some items are made.

6) Have fun! Don’t look at your sessions with your toddler as work sessions; not only will you start feeling pressurized, but your toddler will heartily resist your taking control of things. Instead, use the time to enjoy being with your child, and sharing with them the beauty of the world around them-while strengthening their language development at the same time.

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  • Rachel Jan 29,2013 at 11:29 am

    Hi Michelle! Thanks for stopping by. Personally, I never recommend the wait and see approach. I think there are too many children who delay getting help this way, and miss out on precious time. It never hurts to have an evaluation, which is easy to get from early intervention clinics (usually free), or by getting a referral from your doctor.

    I knew from the start that my youngest, now almost 5, was at risk for language issues. As a small baby I saw he was not only at risk for speech and language delays, but also PDD (due to his “spacing out,” refusal to make eye contact, and a few other things). I immediately did the baby version of the free program I have up now for my e-mail subscribers, and I’m happy to say that he is doing well. I am certain that if I had left it until he was even preschool age he would be heavily PDD by now.

    So I would recommend getting an evaluation, and doing some of the language games for toddlers that I have on this site. Good luck, and let me know if you have any more questions.

  • Michelle Jan 29,2013 at 11:11 am

    I a three year old is having problems with C and L. what should one do? Wait and see?? Please advise.

  • Rachel Feb 3,2012 at 1:23 am

    Thanks for visiting!

    You’re right- watchful waiting might be okay if children were getting tons of extra stimulation at home, but personally I don’t like to take chances. There’s so much you can do throughout the day with even a one year old that will help immensely with language development; it’s a shame not to make use of it.

    My youngest used to sit in on therapy sessions when he was just a baby. Although he definitely displayed signs of language delay, his symptoms were relatively minor due to all the sessions he sat in on. He used to watch and sing along with the children I worked with!

  • Kids Games for Speech Therapy Feb 3,2012 at 12:53 am

    This is a really great post. I think it is so important to realize that when the experts recommend “watchful waiting” there is an assumption that the child is getting bucket loads of stimulation through play at home. Your tips will help to make that a reality, well done!

  • Rachel Sep 8,2011 at 11:13 pm

    Don’t I know it! But doing so helps me enjoy my kids more and get out of “sergeant” mode.

  • Laughwithusblog Sep 8,2011 at 10:54 pm

    Lots of great tips! I have to remind myself to sing, play and talk to my kids more…there is just so much that needs to be done! 🙂

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  • Rachel Aug 17,2011 at 5:18 pm

    Of course. I’m a firm believer in using natural activities when teaching children. Young children learn best through play, so if a parent wants their child to really succeed, they should look around for what they already do with their children, and see how they can enrich their interactions with their children so that purposeful learning occurs.

    If you’re doing that, you will of course have actual objects and pictures around you, whether because you’re reading a book together, taking a walk, or just lounging on the floor playing house.

  • Gabriella Aug 17,2011 at 10:10 am

    I agree. Getting to the child’s level is a far easier method to get them to understand you. Also, in the beginning use objects, pictures and colour with speech – it is amazing how this can assist the brain in remembering things.

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