When you’re at home with your toddler, it’s common to fall into the trap of anticipating what your child wants without them expressing their needs verbally. As parents, you also get used to your child’s speech patterns, despite the flaws, and this can result in speech and language delays. Even though it’s easier to respond to your child without requesting verbal communication, in the long run, it is better to encourage them to express their needs. Here are six parenting tips to encourage communication with your toddler.
6 Ways to Encourage Communication with Your Toddler at Home
1. Expect them to use words to request
For any request, get into the habit of expecting your child to use at least one word. Oftentimes, children learn they can get what they want from crying, whining, or using gesturing instead of using verbal communication. To prevent this, get in the habit of asking questions even though you may already know the answer. For example, you know your toddler wants an apple, but you ask anyway, “what do you want to eat?” Another example is during play time, “what do you want to play with?” Try not to immediately hand over the item without first providing a model. Increase expectation as your child’s vocabulary increases.
2. Model expanded sentences
Once your child is frequently using 1 word utterances, it is time to encourage your toddler to combine words and use 2-3 word phrases. If your child is in the habit of using one-word utterances for their requests, then you should turn their words into short phrases. Here are a few examples. While reading a book, you ask your child what the bird is doing and he or she responds, “fly!” This is a great opportunity to model, “Yes! The bird is flying!” Your child wants another snack and says “more.” Try modeling, “I want more cookies.” Try to expand your phrases by 2-3 words as to not make the sentences too complex for their level.
3. Provide Choices
One way to encourage communication with your toddler is to provide choices. For example, your child points towards their cup. You may already know your child is requesting juice, however at this point you can ask, “would you like to drink water or juice?” Another example is playing at the park, “would you like to swing or go down the slide?” Providing choices not only gives your child a chance to express themselves verbally, but it also gives them the opportunity to learn new words and increases their independence.
4. Do not over-ask
The best way to encourage communication with your toddler is by keeping learning fun and exciting. Because of this, you don’t want to demand the use of words too often. If the process is becoming less fun and more stressful, then take a break and continue at another time. I always recommend that parents work on communication during snack time, reading time, or play time.
5. Keep preferred items out of reach
By keeping your toddler’s favorite toys out of their reach, you automatically increase communication opportunities. Try keeping preferred toys in a cabinet or up high so that your child needs to request the items. This is an opportunity for your child to naturally request since they are not physically able to access items. An example of an activity is using Mr. Potato head to teach body part and clothing items. I keep all of the parts in a box and ask, “what do we need now?” or “should we put on the ears or the eyes?” With the box in your possession, this is a chance to increase your child’s communication attempts.
6. Keep it positive
Try to keep communication with your toddler positive! There will always be a debate over the best way to teach a child, but studies show that positive reinforcement is the best way to offer your child rewards. Positive reinforcement is where your child is rewarded for doing the right thing, and this type of reinforcement is usually paired with negative punishment, which is a fancy way to say that bad or unwanted behaviors are ignored. In this case, you would ignore your child’s whining or crying and only reward attempts at verbal communication.
Communication with your toddler
At the end of the day, the most important thing is to get your child speaking regularly. This process may start small and then increase as your child grows more comfortable with verbal communication.
If your child has gotten into the habit of crying and whining for what they want, then even the smallest attempt at verbal communication should be rewarded. However, as they grow more accustomed to communicating in this way, you can gradually make the process of earning a reward more difficult.
If your child is not using words or displaying frustration with communication, contact us for a speech and language assessment. We offer speech and language therapy services for toddlers as well as parent training to increase communication in the home.