toddler talking on toy phone flickr / Mike Liu
Yakkity Yak

The Complete Guide To Helping Your Toddler Learn To Talk

Maybe your kid would stop losing their mind if they could only get you to understand they want that thing. You know the thing with the bright color? Where you take off the outside part? No. Not that thing. The other thing next to it. The one with the soft inside that pulls apart! Just get THAT THING!! GAHHH!!!

If your kid only knew, or could say, the word “orange” you’d have one less fruit related meltdown in your day. Although you’d be one step closer to the inevitable rhyming meltdown. Luckily, you can help your toddler get talking. Get to it.

The Language Boom

Right now your kid’s brain is on the cusp of a language boom. By 2 years of age they’ll have a little over 20 words and be able to put together super short, simple sentences (I poop. You poop. Poop poop poop). By age 3 that number will explode to 1,000 words (all of them variations of poop).

Your actions in early toddlerhood will basically grease their brain’s word-wheels. Granted it’s even better if you start when they’re babies, but everyone knows that babies are poor conversationalists. Yes, goo goo, everyone gets it, baby.

So to make sure your toddler’s language boom doesn’t go bust, do these things:

Get Talkative

Your kid will talk more if you talk more. It’s a matter of being exposed to a variety of words and ways to use them in everyday life. But, look. Sometimes you just might not know what to say and find yourself being all Marshawn Lynchian about stuff. Time to take it into verbal beast mode, bro.

toddler watching television
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  • Get Descriptive: An easy tip is to simply describe what you’re doing and feeling constantly while your kid is around. You’re making breakfast? Let them know you’re going to use a pan. Better yet, tell them you’re going to use the black pan. You get it.
  • Add On: The same applies when your kid uses a word. If they point and say “dog,” go ahead and add on: “Yes! That’s a dog. It’s a fluffy dog! A fluffy dog that’s licking his … “ Nevermind.
  • Repeat: Go ahead and repeat words as often as you can. Repetition is key to locking it in their noggin. You can do this by establishing a daily routine that uses the same words, or doing something like counting objects. “Poppa has had 1 beer. Poppa has had 2 beers. Now he’s had 3 beers. Poppa is going to nap.”
  • Modulate Your Voice: Parentese is a kind of natural sing-songy way to talk. It’s natural because the modulation of pitch helps your kid remember words. If you find that your natural, manly, deep, velvety voice has a single droning pitch, insert some ups and downs. Think Rick Ross murdering some auto tune and then dial it back, like 50 percent.

More Speakers

Your kid will learn words faster if they hear far more people saying them. That’s because studies have found that the gaps in your kid’s understanding of a word can be filled in by a variety voices saying that word. That’s one of the reasons second children with older siblings have a tendency to grasp language quicker.

So if you can’t find a variety of speakers to fill in your kid’s words, just make another kid so at least the new one will have it easier. Problem solved

Frames And Variation Sets

Frames are the active parts of a sentence that give a certain word context. So if you tell your kid “Look at the dog lick his … Nevermind,” your kid understands that a dog is a thing to look at. Or not in certain circumstances.

These frames can further create what are called variation sets. These allow certain words to remain in context while the vocabulary changes around them. So: “Herman, take this dirty bowl to your mother. Carry the bowl. Carry it to her.  Thank your for carrying that bowl!”

This shows your kid that “take” and “carry to” can be be interchangeable. It also shows that a bowl can be an it and that mother is also a her. Also, they’ve been exposed to the fact that the present infinitive of the verb “to carry” can be changed to the progressive verb tense carrying which is, in fact, a gerund.

And also, that their mother gets pissed when you’re so lazy.

Make Them Work

Don’t be afraid to make your kid work to talk about what they want. You can even go so far as to put objects out of reach that would allow them to do certain tasks. That way, they’ll have to ask for it. In the same vein, be patient as they work to tell you what they want. Give them time to tease it out on their own before you anticipate their needs or finish the sentence for them. Orange. You want the orange. Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?

Beware Corrections And Tests

You don’t need to correct your kid all the time. That’s totally frustrating and discouraging for them. You wouldn’t like it either. That particularly true when the correction invalidates what they are feeling. How could they possibly want the orange when they just had a banana? Who cares? Tell them you understand that oranges are delicious. You hear them. And there will be an orange in their future. Besides, it turns out they are super good at correcting themselves.

Equally frustrating are tests and performances: “Say orange for grandpa!” Nope. Why don’t you say orange. It’s an easy way to get your kid to clam up and that is the exact opposite of what you’re trying to accomplish.