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5 tips to boost your toddler’s language skills

By The Health News Team | May 16, 2023
Parents reading to their young child

Speech, language and communication are critical areas of development for any child. From encouraging babbling to banter, supporting kids’ efforts in communication will help their ability to express needs, wants and emotions. As your child’s parent or caregiver, you are their first and best teacher.

So what exactly do you need to know and do to support their learning? Sydney Miklas, a speech language pathologist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, shares five tips to stimulate your toddler’s language development and help them blossom into a confident communicator.


Use comments, not just questions.

We love to quiz small children. But it’s important to balance questions with comments. When you only focus on questions, your child won’t be getting the language model they need.

Comments give your child meaningful communication to imitate. “At this age, we get more ‘bang for our buck’ if we model the language we want to hear,” Miklas says.

For example, instead of asking “What color is the car?" you can say "It's a blue car!" This also creates an invitation to communicate more, as opposed to having the child only answer questions, she explains.


Go off script.

Reading is an excellent way to foster your child’s language skills. Since it's hard for toddlers to sit for a whole book, you don't have to read every word. At this stage, reading is about learning — not reading a book cover-to-cover. “Toddlers are ways away from needing to understand plot lines and character development,” Miklas says.

Instead, highlight the elements they’re interested in. For example, focus on specific parts of the book or point out pictures by saying “It’s a dump truck," or "That is a cute kitten."

Miklas also recommends acting out small actions with the book. “You can pretend to smell the flowers in the book or be silly and take a pretend bite of the cookie in the story,” she says. “This supports interest in books as well as imitation.”


Focus beyond letters, shapes and numbers.

Parents tend to focus on how soon their child can identify shapes, memorize the alphabet or recite numbers 1 to 10. But you don't need to make academic concepts a priority when your child is learning to talk. It's more important to put your time and energy into teaching functional words. Functional words are useful and practical for your child to help them get their wants and needs met.

“Letters, shapes and numbers will come about later,” says Miklas. “Right now, focus on nouns, names, actions and sound effects. These hold more communicating power and are motivating.”


Use one toy at a time.

It might be tricky to execute with a busy toddler, but having less toys out at one time creates more attention to the toy at hand. Focusing on one toy or activity at a time builds attention skills and creates sustained opportunities for interaction and communication. Research shows fewer available toys at a time leads to better quality playtime for toddlers, allowing them to build concentration skills and play more creatively.

“More attention creates more opportunities to model language,” Miklas says. “Toddlers can also be involved in the clean-up process. When you are cleaning up, you can say 'bye' to the toys.”


Have fun!

Language can feel daunting and overwhelming. Being silly and spontaneous during your child’s play time creates a sense of wonder, curiosity and connectedness that goes beyond what any structured learning activity can accomplish. Toddlers learn best through play and connection.

“Don't make it too complicated,” Miklas says. “If your toddler is enjoying themself and you are modeling sound effects, words or short phrases, you are doing great.”

Learn more about helping your toddler’s language development by attending a Toddler Talking Tips class, offered through Sharp Rees-Stealy Rehabilitation Services.

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