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How to Talk to Toddlers

by on 14/03/2013 4499

Parents are the very first teachers any child will ever have, especially when it comes to learning about new languages or social skills. One of the most endearing moments of your baby’s life will be when he or she says their very first word; usually between the ages of 12 and 18 months old. By the time he or she is 2 years old, most toddlers would have already developed a vocabulary range of one hundred words, thereby making it easier to prepare them for a successful classroom experience during preschool at age 3. 


According to Kathryn Thorson Gruhn, certified American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) practitioner and author of My Baby Compass, as many as one in five children (20%) under the ages of 5 are experiencing delay in language development. An even more worrying statistic is that only 50% of these cases are detected before the child begins their schooling years. As such, it is important to diagnose and correct speech impairment issues earlier on in your child’s life so he or she can adapt better in preschool life.


The problem is that while children tend to be much more open minded and absorb more information faster than grownups, communicating with toddlers and younger children pose a different set of challenges as well. Unlike how you would educate teenagers or adults, helping a toddler develop a good set of language skills requires a combination of facial expressions and body language for proper communication. 


Exercises You Can Practise at Home

Make it a habit to have your toddler point out things he or she is interested in and give the object a name. Your toddler will then copy the words and sounds you make, provided that you do so diligently and consistently. If you’re not in the mood for talking, have your toddler become the speaker instead. To do so, all you need to do is ask open questions, such as how their day was, what they like, what they learned and who they met. It is important that you pay rapt attention during your child’s speech, just as how you would like them to pay attention to you when you’re talking as well.


Never laugh or make fun of a child when he or she makes a mistake, but encourage them to continue speaking, even if they come across a word they are unfamiliar with or if their grammar is incorrect.  Toddlers who are just beginning to form sentences may take awhile to fully express things they would like to tell you. Be patient and encourage them to take their time to sort out the things they want to say. Never rush your child or speak for them, else they may become shy and unwilling to speak up. A good time to have an open dialogue with your toddler could be when he or she is having her bath, or just before bedtime as there are less distractions then.  Maintain eye level by bending down to their level so they will feel the connection.


Reading books or listening to audio books are also great ways of helping your child expand their vocabulary, and it also allows you to participate in your child’s latest imaginary adventures and discovery. If your toddler has taken up drawing as a hobby, encourage them to tell you about their latest creation as well. Your toddlers should also be encouraged to express their latest hurts and worries on bad days, such as when they fall down or get into a fight. A healthy approach to having your child acknowledge the tragedy would be to listen with a sympathetic ear. Besides allowing your child to better express themselves in a healthy manner (as opposed to crying or displaying a fit of temper), the act of having your child share their secrets with you is also a rewarding, bonding experience for the both of you. Always be ready to be your child’s confidant, even if he or she is still a toddler.


Talking to Talkative Toddlers 

Some toddlers are natural social butterflies, and are always ready to share their latest adventures and discoveries with the adults. If your toddler demands your attention during an inconvenient moment, it’s never a good idea to turn your child down. Instead, simply delay the conversation to a later time. Tell your toddler something along the lines of, “Honey, that’s great. I’ll be with you in a minute.” Toddlers are short on patience, so it is best to quickly get back to them before they forget what they were trying to say!


By the time your toddler reaches the age of three, he or she will begin the onslaught of endless questions about the sky, stars and everything else you’ve never given deep thought to in a while. The tricky part is that while it is tempting to ignore your child’s queries, you need to answer as patiently as you can to encourage your child to nurture a sense of healthy curiosity. The silver lining to this problem though is that your children will eventually figure out that you don’t have all the answers to life’s questions.


The one and only time when you should ignore a talkative toddler is when he or she is throwing a tantrum or is whining incessantly. The habit of rushing in to placate a noisy toddler will only further encourage them to whine even more! Instead, only reply with positive attention when your toddler decides to speak in a civilized, polite manner.


Talking to Quiet Toddlers

Having a toddler who’s noisy with his or her friends but quiet at home is quite common as well. This behaviour could be because the parent is perceived to be a serious adult, far removed from childish understanding. Alternatively, your child could simply prefer to confide in other children instead of adults, which is quite similar to how most teenagers would prefer to communicate with their peers instead of grownups.


To get your toddler to open up, you need to gently prompt him or her for answers. Try to use as many open-ended questions as possible to get your toddler to elaborate further about their day or a particular situation. For instance, instead of asking “did you have your breakfast today?” say “what did you have for breakfast today?”. Children are naturally tuned to the mood of their parents, so do try to be as attentive as possible to encourage further interaction.


Some toddlers fall into a habit of using gestures instead of words, either because they can’t find the right words to express their emotions or because they are currently in a state of distress. If your child seems to be experiencing the latter, have them settle down and prompt them with open questions until they relieve all their worries and burdens unto you.


On the whole, teaching your toddler the art of conversation will most certainly by a decade long process (if not longer!). However, with proper communication comes good discipline, closer relations and a happier childhood – which makes the effort alone worth it.