Toddlerhood can be a difficult time for any parent, especially when your child does not yet have the words to tell you what they want. If you’re feeling this way, this blog post is for you! Below are five terrific strategies that you can use across play (and routine!) activities with your child to facilitate their expressive and receptive language skills.

1. Follow their lead

Let your child chose what and how they want to play, and then don’t just watch, but get down at their level and join their play! Follow your child’s attention and imitate their actions and gestures. If your child is pushing a train on the track, imitate their action by pushing a different train on the track. Your child will absolutely love the fact that you’re down at their level, and are playing with them!

2. Wait and respond

Parents do such a remarkable job anticipating their child needs. But for this strategy to be successful, we need to WAIT! This allows time for your child to initiate communication, and then you can respond accordingly. During meals or snack, you may notice that your child needs help opening up a container or package of fruit snacks. Instead of opening it for them, hand it to them unopened, and wait to see if they will say, “help” or “open.” They might just hand it to you, without saying a word, and that’s okay, because they are still communicating with you. During play with blocks, you might notice that your child needs another block. Wait for them to say, “block!” or “more!” Maybe they will reach towards another block to nonverbally communicate that they want another one. Acknowledge that your child is communicating, and then you can model the appropriate word “block!”

3. Say what your child would say

If your child is not yet saying single words then they are probably not going to say, “I want a block, please.” Don’t worry, they’ll eventually get to this point, but for now keep it simple. If your child is not yet using words, model single words as you talk about their play and actions such as uh- oh, car, go, hot. If your child is saying primarily 1-word phrases you can model 1- or 2-word phrases (e.g., go car, big leaf, open book, hot soup).

4. Repeat and add

When your child says a word or phrase, respond by repeating what they said and then add a new word. If your child is putting their baby doll to sleep and they say “baby” you could say, “baby sleep”, or “night-night baby.” If your child says “water” while reaching for more water, model “more water.” We always want to expand their language by adding something new.

5. Answer instead of asking

This is typically the hardest strategy for parents, because we are so accustomed to asking a question to fill silence. Don’t. Refrain from asking questions and comment instead. Just remember, if your child is not yet talking they most likely will not have the language to respond to “test questions” (questions you already know the answer to) such as “What color is that?” “What is this?” “What are you doing?” “What are you going to do next?” Test questions can be extremely frustrating for children, especially when they do not yet have the language to respond. Instead, if you feel like it is awkwardly silent during your play, fill the silence by talking about what your child is doing (e.g., baby is eating (while they are feeding their baby doll), go train… choo-choo (while they are pushing a train)).

Now that you’ve read through the five strategies go and try one out with your child! And remember, the most important part is interacting and talking to your child. Go and join their play!

Written By:
Maria (Chironis) Stickels, MS, CCC-SLP
Speech & Language Pathologist