8 ways to get your toddler talking

Are you keen to help your little one express him or herself from the word go? Studies have shown that children with a ‘positive communication environment’ at home achieve higher scores on tests of language, reading and maths when they enter school, so by boosting your baby’s language you can give them the best possible start in life. Read on for some tips from Tracey Blake, co-author of Small Talk: Simple Ways To Boost Your Child’s Speech And Language…


  1. Say what you see

The single most important thing to do – for children of all ages – is the Say What You See technique. It’s all about learning through play, giving a gentle running commentary on what your child is doing. It involves following your child’s lead, observing him closely to see what he is interested in, and commenting and then pausing to give space for the child to respond. We can often talk too much or ask too many questions, not giving our children a chance to speak.

This helps your child become involved in what he’s doing and link what he hears to what he is doing or thinking. And, after lots of repetition, next time he repeats the action or play sequence, he will hear your voice in his head, and eventually want to say it for himself.

Watch this video to see Say What You See in action…

  1. Be simple and clear

Speech therapists agree that understanding is the key to good language development. Before a child can even begin to speak, he or she needs to first understand what is being said. Once your baby grasps something fluffy saying “woof, woof” is a dog, they can then begin to start to say the word. So the best way to help your little one start to make sense of the world is feeding him bite-sized morsels of language at the right level. When your baby is under one, for example, try to communicate simply, in one or two-word phrases.

Focus on the key words and don’t worry too much about using correct grammar – “The teddy has fallen out of the push chair” should be simplified to “Teddy fall down,” depending on the level of the child’s language.

  1. Be consistent

As well as being simple and clear, aim to be consistent. For example, there are lots of different ways of describing having a drink, you might say you’re thirsty, juice, water, milk, bottle or cup. But your child will learn more quickly if you drill into him just one such word, so try to pick one and stick to it in the early stages of language development.

  1. Repeat, repeat, repeat

I was thrilled when my son Monty’s first word, at about 10 months, was “cat”. I had been pointing to our puss, Keith, and saying ‘cat’ until I was blue in the face. Monty always took great delight in watching Keith and first began pointing to him and squealing excitedly, before beginning to attempt to say it himself. It began as “ah”, so I’d praise his effort and model the correct word back to him, “Yes Monty, cat! Clever boy.” Then, with lots of repetition from me, my daughter Minnie and husband James, it slowly morphed into a completely clear “Cat!”

Watch the video to see his first word!

  1. Use words in context

When you are repeating certain words, make sure they are in context. For example, say “Up” each time you pick up your baby, repeat “Down, down, down” when you go down the stairs, “Push the button” when you’re in a lift or “Shake, shake, shake” for a rattle. Doing this each time will help your baby learn the word and also reinforce the context in which that word is meaningfully used.

  1. Make the most of story time

A bedtime story should be shared from a very early age – even from birth. For young babies, it’s best to simply point out one or two single words that relate to the pictures on the page. As you ‘tune in’ to the level of your child’s language and thought, you will be able to modify your storytelling accordingly – first reading out one line from each page, then the whole story.

Don’t forget to point out parts of the illustrations your child might be interested in that may not always relate to the words. Use your baby’s finger to point to these things as it encourages the child to look at the same thing you are looking at.

  1. Do some ‘container play’

Toddlers love ‘container play’ and all you need is a couple of old ice cream tubs or large Tupperware tubs (lunch boxes work well too) and some objects to play with. Try a small range of objects that fit within a certain category or set, for example, vehicles, clothes, snacks, toys or animals.

Interestingly, when words are learnt within their particular set, they are stored better in the language centre in your baby’s brain (a bit like a filing cabinet in your brain).

Name each item as you pull it out of the bag and then throw it theatrically into a large container (kids will love the noise of is bashing and crashing in) – continue until the bag is empty then start all over again.

  1. Give reasons to communicate

Doting parents and grandparents often try to pre-empt their baby’s every need, but by doing this your child no longer has a reason to communicate with you. Here’s a list of reasons why a baby might try to communicate, once you understand these you can begin to encourage them to express their needs – through gesture, babbling, words or eventually sentences!

Responding to someone – saying “Hi” or “Bye”

Asking for more – “Another biscuit!

Protesting/refusing – “No!”/ “Go away”

Getting attention – “Muuuummy!”

Making comments – “Look!”/ “Big bus”

Giving information – “Me fall down”

Seeking information – “What’s that?”/ “Where’s Daddy gone?”

Thinking and planning – “After tea”/ “Bath time”

And sharing ideas – “Let’s go park!”/ “I like sweeties”

So, next time your toddler points furiously at the biscuits, pretend you don’t understand and offer him a piece of fruit instead. Chances are that he will make his desire for a biscuit very clear!

Small Talk is available from Amazon now. Please visit and subscribe to the Small Talk Channel on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/user/SmallTalkTime for friendly talking tips to get your cheeky monkey chatting.


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