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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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