We started a series of posts a while ago on encouraging your toddler to talk. You can read the first two posts here and here. In the last post, I talked about trying to reduce the number of questions that you ask and commenting on what your child does instead.
How long should these comments be?
This is really going to depend on what level your child is at. If your child is not really using words at all or has only a few single words then you want to just use single words in your commenting, or symbolic noises (animal sounds, brrm brrm for a car etc). If your child has quite a lot of single words but isn’t really starting to join them yet, then you need to use lots of two-word phrases. When your child uses a single word related to your activity, that’s fantastic! Repeat it back for them to hear, and add another word to it. For example if you and your child are playing with cars together, you will probably find that a toddler with just a few words is going to say “car” quite a bit! That’s great, he (or she – girls like cars too!) is probably trying to tell you all sorts of things with that one word. They may be saying “look, there’s a car”, “I like this car”, “my car is driving”, “I’ve got lots of cars” or all sorts of other things. Start showing them how to add something to this one word to say different things. Add one word to “car”. You might say “red car” or “car driving”, or “Sam’s car” (or whatever your child’s name is!)
When deciding how long your comments should be, the idea is that whatever stage your child is at, you are going to show them just one step further on.
Should I get my child to repeat what I said?
No. This usually starts to put the child off and repeating is a very different skill from being able to do it spontaneously anyway. Pause for a moment and look at your child expectantly in case they want to say something. You may find that they naturally repeat, or try to. Great! If not, don’t worry, just keep playing and adding something to what your child says, or using other single words or short phrases. If over a longer period of time of doing this, they still don’t start repeating, then there are other ways we can encourage them a little more – we’ll come onto those another day.
Which words should I use?
I think with this, the main thing is to keep it simple. You really want your child to hear the same words over and over again in your play session – the more times they hear a word, the more likely they are to try and use it. When I am working with children who don’t have any or just a handful of words I look for 1-2 words in whatever activity we are doing that I am going to repeat over and over again. Let’s take one of my favourite toddler activities – bubbles! I often use these to target the word “more” (usually a nice motivating one to begin with!) and “go”. If the child already has these, I might target “pop” and “up”, or another two words that I can easily say lots while we’re having fun with bubbles. I will say some other things too as we’re playing, but I make sure I am repeating those words over and over again in the right context for the child to hear. (For more ideas of things to do with bubbles, see Elizabeth’s post here).
How long should I do this for and how often?
As much as you can would be great. However, let’s be realistic – we all have busy lives, jobs, other children etc. and this does actually require a surprising amount of concentration, especially the first few times you do it. You also want plenty of time when your child is hearing everyday language to develop their comprehension as well. If your child literally just heard a few words in a day that wouldn’t be helpful either!
Little and often is the best way to do any kind of language work. So if you can find 5 minutes 3-4 times a week that would be a brilliant start. If you can find 5 minutes every day, that’s even better. You might find it easiest to schedule it into your day at a particular time so that you don’t forget. For other people this doesn’t work so well and it’s easier to just grab the moment when you can. It doesn’t really matter, as long as you give it a go. Also, don’t forget that the activity has to be something your child enjoys – the best way to do it is to just play with whatever they’re playing with at that time – you don’t need to plan it!
If you have found this post useful, do check out our e-book, which is full of practical advice to help you and your child at every step of the way through the speech therapy process.