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How to Promote Language Development for Your Toddler
Language development is an exciting time in your child’s life, when those random babbles turn into intentional words and you finally hear, “Mama,” come from your precious one’s mouth. It is so sweet, but as much as you would love to hear that sweet, “mommy,” over and over again you know that little one has a lot more language to develop!
Can you believe that at age two most kids know about 20-200 words, but by age three they’ve got about 1,000 in the bank! That’s amazing! If we wanted to learn 1,000 words of a new language we wouldn’t just pick it up from being exposed to it, we would intentionally have to sit down and study those words. Your toddler, on the other hand, is primed to learn. They are like a sponge ready to soak up language!
So how’s a busy mom like yourself supposed to help them on their language journey? Well first there are two important things you need to note:
- They WILL talk
- They understand more than they hear
As moms we can have a really bad habit of comparing our kids to other kids.
Sometimes in a competitive way, sometimes in a, “is my child meeting their milestones?” kind of way. This is a very dangerous game, especially because there’s a wide range of “normal” for basically any kind of milestone. You can have two one-year-olds born on the same day, one with 8 teeth and the other with their first tiny little bud barely through their gums. Both children are normal and let’s stop equating their value (or really, our value) to how many teeth they have, steps they have taken or words they know. Every child will have their own journey of development so don’t worry if they’re not like kids their age and remember that they know more words than they can actually say. If you have a legitimate concern about your child’s development, then the best thing you can do for them is talk to your pediatrician as they will be able to give you the best advice possible.
So worries aside, how can you actually encourage language development in your toddler?
I could basically wrap up this entire answer into one word: expose.
Your young one needs to be exposed to language, if they’re going to learn it, simple as that. The more they are exposed the more they will soak in like the language sponge that they are. By hearing language they will learn sounds, words, sentence structure and more. It’s amazing how quickly they can learn to communicate using their words.
Sometimes as parents we can get pretty caught up in the busy aspects of our lives, just taking care of a baby or toddler can keep us pretty busy and we might find that it’s hard to intentionally expose our child to language besides them just overhearing conversations or the little things we think to say to them. Here are some things you can do to expose your child to language if you make them a habit they will start to come naturally to you.
Do you like to talk to yourself? Well now might be your time to shine as your young one needs to hear a lot of talking! Narrating what is going in is a great way to expose them to language. You can say things like this…
“I am making the bed.”
“You are pushing the red truck.”
“Daddy is putting on his shoes.”
Talk about what is going on constantly. This can be kind of exhausting (well depending on your personality) but it can definitely be very helpful for your toddler. If this doesn’t come naturally to you then my advice would be to work it into a routine you already have, for instance during diaper changes talk about everything that is happening. Try doing this at every diaper change and it will start to come naturally to you at other times too.
With narrating think past, present and future. Mention something that happened this morning, what you’re doing right now, or what you will be doing later on.
#2. Meaningful Conversation
This one will depend on how much your toddler is talking already, but it can be reduced to “ask meaningful questions.” Basically what I want you to do here is talk about things that are important to your toddler because this will peek their interest. Asking them questions around their interests will also promote meaningful conversation. Meal time can be a nice time for meaningful conversations and questions. If you see your child really enjoys a certain food you can talk about that, or ask them questions about the food. This could also work with a toy they love, or big brother or sister they admire. You get the idea. Going after their interest is always a good idea.
Every child is different though, and some might not be able to take on a parade of questions. They understand a lot more than they can say so just talking to them can also be good for their language development. Even if they are not responding you can continue to narrate what is going on and talk about things that you know your child is interested in. They will listen and learn a lot more than you will be able to see right away.
#3. Become a Disney Princess
No, I don’t mean bring wild animals into your house and wear a crown (well I guess you can if you want) but make life a little bit more musical! Song is an amazing way that we communicate language as well as with rhymes. This is another thing that might not come naturally to you at first, but can soon be a habit you forget to turn off in those rare occasions when you’re in adult only company!
Singing to them can be a precious time especially if you enjoy singing praise and worship songs, but it doesn’t always have to be necessarily scripted songs. You might already be making up songs for your baby or toddler and if so that is great! Then you’re already exposing them to more language!
I find singing to be a fun way to narrate what I am doing and what’s going on. Sometimes it’s super, super silly but turns into a big song. Can you relate to this? For example, the other day I said to my daughter she was a squirmy, little worm and that turned into a song. Sing, and rhyme, and just make life a little bit more musical for your young one. They will enjoy listening which they need to do in order to soak up the language!
#4. I don’t even have to tell you – books!
This one is probably obvious, but still worth stating because books are AMAZING at any age of life! Love books when you are young and you will love them when you are old. Whenever you are able, read interesting books to your toddler. When doing so there are a few things to note
- Read different kinds of books (different writing styles, lengths of book, etc.)
- Take your time
- Repeat, repeat, repeat
Covering various writing styles will give your child more exposure and will keep it interesting. Taking time to tell the story can give your child the time to soak it all in, look at pictures and ask questions. Taking your time can also give you the chance to add dramatic voices, make observations about the pictures, and ask your child questions about the story.
Same process, and often the same story as your child will likely start to have favourite books that they want to hear over and over again! We already know that following children’s interest is key to their learning, so don’t be shy to repeat the same book over and over again.
My husband laughed one night as I was “reading” a bedtime story without looking at the words. “Kiss, Kiss Goodnight” is a favorite in our house so I read it a lot. Soon your child might even have the words memorized too, and instead of agonizing over having to read the same (annoying?) story over and over again just try to mix it up a bit to keep it interesting for both of you. Try a lot of different voices, reading it suuuuppppeeeerr ssllllooooowwww or really, really fast to entertain your young one. You can ask them even more meaningful questions about the book. What is there favourite part, or favourite character? They might only be able to show you by pointing in the book, but they’re communicating to you and one day they will be able to answer those questions with lengthy sentences.
You should also give your toddler access to books so they can explore the books on their own. A toddler sized book shelf to neatly display the books is great, but a basket could also work. Expose them to the written word and you expose them to language.
For you Bible reading mamas out there, this goes for the Bible too! You can devote a special time together to read to them from God’s Word. Personally, I am not a fan of most children’s Bibles and would be perfectly fine with reading straight out of my ESV. This may be different for you though, so go with what works. I have yet to see a children’s Bible I like, so if you have a favourite send me a link and I would love to check it out.
No one likes a bad listener. I know a few really bad listeners and it drives me nuts! I also know some people who are amazing listeners and it makes me feel so valued, like my words matter.
This can go for toddlers too, if you want your child to talk then you’re going to want to listen. If they felt listened to then, of course, it is more likely they will keep talking, or tell you more when the time is right.
This can be hard especially when we have no idea what they are saying. Try to be gracious, listen carefully and pay attention to context. Most parents can understand their child’s distinct way of talking anyway. There will be times when your child wants to talk and it’s not the right time for you to listen, for instance, if you are in the middle of doing something and you can’t focus, talking on the phone, etc. Of course, there are times you should just drop what you’re doing and give them your full attention, but this is the real world and us moms need to get stuff done!
Instead of fake paying attention, it is much better to say something like, “I am really excited about what you have to say, but right now I am [doing something] but you can tell me as soon as you are done.” This is much better than trying to multi-task too many things at once and in the end, your child doesn’t feel heard. Listen so they can feel heard, and listen so you can add to the conversation.
An extra part of learning is to pay attention to what they’re interested in. If you can see what your child is interested in then you can play activities and projects centered around that interest and they will be really excited about it.
This is great, but WHEN will my child talk?!
As long as your child is hitting the right milestones in the right time frame then you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. It can be painful to watch the progress of other children so don’t get caught up in it. Your child is soaking up new words all the time just by listening even if they’re never saying them. If you feel there is a need for concern then the best person to talk to would be your doctor or your child’s educator because they will have better insight to your child’s development and what is expected for their age. I have heard countless stories of children who took a long time to really start talking and once they did they couldn’t stop!
Enjoy the moment over the language development milestones
Getting too caught up in their accomplishments will wear you down. Instead, enjoy the sweet moment of cuddling up together for a good book, and shake off the haters telling you your tot needs to talk already! You got this mama, you’re their helping hand up to learn and they will learn. So sing, and narrate, and read and cherish the opportunity to be your child’s first teacher.
Have you found anything else that has helped your child with their language development? Let me know in the comments below.
The Moving Mama
Lizzy Mash is an experienced early childhood educator now living in Africa as a missionary working with children and families.
She teaches Christian moms how to take a more respectful and Christ-like approach to motherhood by using Gentle Parenting strategies.
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