The path from infancy to toddlerhood is marked with several developmental milestones. One important milestone that toddlers need to attain is to talk. When they talk, children learn to express their feelings and vocalise their thoughts. However, not all toddlers start talking at the same time. There are some who are early starters while others take their own sweet time. But, in both the cases, the role of parents is of the utmost importance. In an article published in the Stanford News (October 15, 2013), Bjorn Carey quotes psychologist Anne Fernald, who says, "Parents need to know the importance of providing linguistic nutrition and exercise to their young children." Fernald further says, "By talking with them more in an engaging and supportive way, parents can nurture early brain development and build a strong foundation for language learning."
Having underlined the important role that parents play in developing their children’s linguistic skills, here are some tips that will help you to motivate your toddler to talk.
1. Chat, chat and chat: Remember, you are the centre of attraction for your toddler and he listens to every word that you say with rapt attention. So, use the time you spend with your toddler to talk to him about everything that you see or do. But, take care to explain all that you want to tell him in simple and descriptive words. Keep in mind the fact that the more you talk to your toddler, the more you will motivate him to talk, and help him learn.
2. Listen: Listening to what your toddler says is as important as talking to her. Listening to what your child says not only gives you information about her language development, but also tells her that you are giving her your undivided attention. This encourages her to communicate more with you and sustains her interest in the interaction.
2. Read and tell stories: Who doesn’t like being entertained with stories or looking at beautiful illustrations? And, with children, these activities not only give wings to their imagination, but also helps them learn new words. Try to read at least one story to your toddler every day. Choose books that have stories about animals, both domestic and wild, or playthings like trucks and cars. Allow your child to hold the book in her hands and flip through it. Let her look intently at the pictures or just flip and feel the pages.
3. Engage in play activities: Join your child in activities like singing rhymes or songs, acting out stories, saying aloud rhyming words, or solving simple word riddles. Use a lot of gestures, facial expressions, and variations in voice while engaging in these activities. You can also use pictures to help your child learn about the names of different things around him. All these activities will help in the development of your child’s speech and language.
4. Withhold and wait: If you feel that your child knows the word for an object but is not using the word to ask for it, don’t give it to him. Let him use the word to ask for it and only then should you give it to him.
5. Use short sentences: Instead of saying a complex sentence to your toddler, shorten it down to a small command. For example, instead of saying, “It’s 4 o’clock; we need to go now, otherwise we’ll miss your buddy in the park,” you can just say, “Let’s go to the park now.”
6. Expand the word: Toddlers usually use one, two or three words to express themselves. You can help your child understand how to build a sentence by adding words to what she says. For example, if your child says ‘milk’ when she is hungry. You can expand it and ask her to state, “I want milk.”
7. Limit screen time: It’s not just older children, even toddlers are glued to the television and smartphone today. Cartoon shows and games fascinate them. You may argue that these gadgets do provide activities for your child on numbers, letters of the alphabet, colours and so on. But, such activities will not help him learn language and speech, as talking is an interactive process. So, cut down on your toddler’s screen time and encourage him to interact with you or other family members.
Follow these easy-to-remember tips to encourage your toddler to talk. But, remember, the pace of speech and language development is different for every child. So, don’t be disheartened if your child is behind other children in terms of her vocabulary. Continue with your efforts and keep encouraging her. But, if you find that despite your best efforts your child is not making progress, consult her paediatrician on what can be done.