Isn’t it amazing to watch your toddler’s emerging communication skills? Whether its words, gestures or sign language, your toddler is learning to express themselves, which is so exciting!
Babies and toddlers are going through a stage of rapid brain development and this provides a wonderful time to interact with them in fun and meaningful ways that encourage their communication development.
Your language input helps your little one’s brain create meaningful neuron connections to build a solid language foundation as they develop. Think of it as adding new branches to a tree, so the tree can grow more leaves and blossom into the fullest version of itself.
Here are some simple and fun ways to encourage toddler communication:
- Follow your child’s curiosity to learn what interests and motivates them. Toddlers learn more when they are motivated and having fun. Engage in their preferred activities with them and talk to them about what your are doing together.
- Sing with your toddler. Music is a great way to build early language and literacy skills like rhyming, phonological awareness, comprehension, and vocabulary. Sing to your toddler, let your toddler sing to you, or put on your toddler’s favorite song and sing/dance along.
- Read with your toddler. Provide your toddler with a variety of books on topics that interest them, new concepts to learn and books that relate to the current season, holiday or family events. Make reading interactive by commenting on and labeling the pictures in the book and asking questions like “what was your favorite part? what is that (point to a picture)?, where is the ___?” or “can you point to the __?” Let your toddler tell you their version of the story by talking about or pointing to the pictures in the book.
- Respond positively to your toddler’s communication (whether verbal or nonverbal). Acknowledging and praising your toddler’s communication builds confidence, which encourages them to communicate more often.
- Look for conversation starters all around you. Conversation topics are everywhere and can range from what you & your little one are experiencing, to how they are feeling, to the way their senses perceive the environment around them. Look around and talk with your little one about what you are both experiencing.
- Think of a conversation as tossing an imaginary ball back-and forth. It’s a two-way street. Talking and listening are both important parts of the conversation. Tune into your toddlers’ verbal and nonverbal signals and try to get a back-and-forth dynamic going by asking questions and responding to their communication.
- Encourage your toddler to use problem-solving skills by giving them time and space to think things through and try out things themselves before jumping in to help them (at least some of the time). It’s amazing what children can do and how empowered they feel when they figure something out on their own. If they are still struggling to do something, this presents a great opportunity to empower them with ways to ask for help. You could model the word, “help,” give them the cue, “say help,” or teach them the sign for help. Visit the Tiny Signs website to learn how to teach your baby the sign for “help” and to find many great resources for baby sign language.
- Have your toddler request things they want in whatever way they are able to. This might be using a word, sign language, or gestures to identify what they want. Learning to communicate wants and needs is very empowering for toddlers.
- To build vocabulary, provide lots of repetition of new concepts that interest your toddler. Teach new words/concepts through meaningful and fun experiences like music and play. Find songs, books, or toys that demonstrate these new concepts to give your toddler various ways to reinforce learning.
- Make interactions fun and lighthearted as much as possible. Fun and meaningful social interactions are the best way to support early communication (e.g. tickles, peek-a-boo, reading together, singing together)!
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