10 Ways to Encourage Your Toddler’s Speech Development


speech developmentIsn’t it amazing watching your little one’s communication skills develop? Toddlers are going through a stage of rapid brain development which provides the perfect time to encourage speech and language skills. There are many things you can do to support toddler communication development through play and meaningful interaction. Below are ten tips for encouraging emerging communication skills. 

1. Read with your toddler

  • Let your toddler pick their favorite book, use animated voices, talk about the pictures in the book, ask questions about the book, and don’t worry if your toddler doesn’t finish the book. 
  • Reading supports speech, language and literacy development and it’s fun!

2. Play music or sing together

  • Play music, sing a song, watch a music video and dance along, or play instruments with your toddler.
  • Music is an amazing tool for supporting language and learning skills because it provides opportunities to practice rhythm, pitch, and volume and activates many areas of the brain.

3. Play good old-fashioned games or just be silly together

  • Games that encourage social interaction are wonderful for toddlers (e.g. tickles, back-and-forth silly faces, peek-a-boo, song games, hide and seek, London Bridge, and Ring Around the Rosy).
  • Playing games together supports early communication by providing opportunities to take turns, follow directions, have conversations, use gestures, imitate simple actions and more!

4. Have back-and-forth conversations

  • Talk to your toddler about things they seem interested in and ask them questions.
  • Make sure you leave space for them to respond and listen to the responses (whether verbal or nonverbal). It’s ok if they don’t say anything, you’re still teaching them about how a conversation works. 
  • Tune into your toddlers’ verbal and nonverbal signals and try to get a back-and-forth dynamic going by asking questions and responding to their questions and statements. Think of a conversation as tossing an imaginary ball back-and-forth. 

5. Celebrate communication attempts (whether verbal or nonverbal)

  • There’s nothing better than having someone notice your efforts, and praising and acknowledging your toddler’s communication builds confidence, which encourages them to communicate more often (just make sure to listen to all of what they have to say first).
  • Communication can be talking, babbling, gesturing, signing, eye-contact or may take other forms. After your toddler communicates, show them that you are listening by responding enthusiastically to what you think they are telling you and helping them if they are expressing wants and needs. 

6. Expand on your toddlers communication 

  • Repeat what your toddler says and then model a slightly more complex version of their communication.
  • If your toddler is babbling, acknowledge their communication and model words for what they might be trying to communicate.
  • If they are using one word, repeat their word and add on another word to show them what that sounds like (ex: if toddler points to the door and says “door!” you could expand by saying “open door?” “ok!”).

7. Teach different ways to ask for help 

  • Toddlers want to do anything and everything but still need help getting some of their wants and needs met. They may become frustrated when they want help but don’t know how to ask for it. Teaching them ways to request help empowers them to communicate wants and needs. 
  • You could model the word, “help,” give them the cue, “say help,” or teach them the sign for help.
  • Visit Tiny Signs to learn the sign for help and many more great signs to support your toddler’s communication skills.

8. Look for conversation starters

  • Conversation topics are everywhere and can range from what you & your little one are experiencing, to how they are feeling and the way their senses perceive the environment around them.
  • Look around and talk to your little one about what you are both experiencing (ex: “Look at the airplane! It’s up in the sky! What do you see in the sky?”).

9. Model how to request wants and needs

  • Along the lines of asking for help, teaching your toddler how to ask for what they want using the level of communication they are at (this might be using a word, sign language, or gestures to identify what they want) empowers them to get their wants and needs met. 
  • If they are pointing to their juice, you could say, “Oh, you want your juice?” and see if they respond by nodding their head or saying yes. Or if they are using words, you could ask, “what do you want?” and see if they request the item using words. It’s ok if they don’t, simply modeling this language supports them in learning how to request.
  • Note: never withhold items until they request in a way that makes the child frustrated or keep asking them to request over and over again (unless you are working with an SLP who has given you instructions). 

10. Build vocabulary through play and experiences

  • Expand on concepts that interest your toddler by describing using lots of detail. 
  • Give your toddler opportunities to explore concepts through many senses and present info in many different ways (visual, auditory, tactile, kinesthetic, taste, etc.).
  • Provide repetition of concepts during music and play activities by finding examples of familiar concepts and pointing them out to your toddler. 

For more information on speech and language development and what to do if you have concerns, check out the first two posts in this series or comment below with questions. 

This post is for informational purposes only and is not a replacement for assessment and/or treatment from a certified Speech-Language Pathologist. Visit https://www.asha.org/findpro/ to find an SLP near you.