So, you dropped your little one off at daycare and noticed the other toddlers saying, “Bye-bye, Mommy,” while yours only waves. Or you bumped into a fellow parent at Food Republic and his little girl seems to be talking up a storm, but your little boy only says phrases.
First of all, every child is different, and develops at his/her own pace. Some children begin saying “da-da” and “ma-ma” when they’re only nine or ten months old. Others bloom slightly later. But make sure that you are enjoying each moment with your child, and you will help your toddler develop a lifelong love for learning.
1. Talk to your child
Everyone loves a good story, and young children are no exception. Turn your day together into a story. “It’s time to get up now. Let us make your bed. Then we’ll brush your teeth.” You can also narrate what you are doing: “Now Mommy is getting the milk for your sippy cup.” Keep talking to her and soon she will be joining in the conversation.
2. Sing to her
Little children love music! They love dancing or bouncing along to the tune. Whether you’re singing aloud, or listen to a toddler song together, your toddler is learning rhythm and basic concepts such as colours and numbers.
3. Read to him
Read to your child to help develop a lifelong love for reading and stories. While you read a story to your child, sit side by side so your toddler can see the book and the words. Read clearly and with expression. You can also pause and point to pictures, asking simple questions about the story or letting them finish sentences of a story they know well.
4. Respond immediately
Perhaps your child points at something or claps his hands. Maybe she says a word or phrase. Respond right away to any attempt your toddler makes to communicate with you. Use simple words, or complete sentences, but clearly reply to what your child is trying to say. This way, he will be encouraged to keep making efforts to communicate.
5. Avoid criticising
No one speaks perfectly from the get-go. Perhaps your toddler is struggling with the “r” sound, or lisps his way through his words. That’s okay. Repeat to your child anything they may have mispronounced, while saying it correctly. If your child says, “Wook at da pwetty kitty,” you can respond, “Wow, look at the pretty kitty cat. Isn’t that a pretty little kitty?” This way, your child will hear and eventually adopt the right pronunciation, but won’t be discouraged that they haven’t gotten it right yet.
6. Explore the world together
Walking to the park or around the neighbourhood, or even a day trip to the zoo is full of great opportunities for your toddler to see and experience new things. Along the way, narrate the adventure and teach your child new words they will likely try to repeat.
7. Make playtime “learning time”
Add commentary to each activity while watching your toddler at play. If your little girl is playing with a tea set, you can say, “You have a teapot and two little cups. Shall we have tea together?” This way, you provide a narrative that can not only increase their vocabulary but fire up their imagination.
8. Avoid screen time
It’s an easy way to distract your child or keep them quiet during a meal at a restaurant but try to avoid giving your child extended access to the screen. Computers, smartphones, iPads, television – most of these do not allow your child to interact, which is key for learning and doing. You may watch some educational programmes together, but try to make screen time an exception rather than the rule.
9. Interpret and expound
If you see your child pointing to an object he wants, such as a box of blocks, you can interpret the gesture: “Do you want to play with the blocks?” Or if your child is at the stage where she is stating phrases such as “my dolly”, you can expand on that statement: “That is your dolly. She has black hair and brown eyes.”
10. Give her choices
Whenever you are with your child, use the opportunity to give her a choice. If she is sitting in her high chair and points at the fridge, you can ask, “Are you hungry? Do you want cheese and crackers or a peanut butter sandwich?” Your toddler might not answer in a complete sentence, but she will probably say a word or two in response.
When you are helping your toddler develop language skills, you don’t need to teach them the entire dictionary in one shot.If he is saying single words, encourage him to use phrases. If she has mastered phrases, try to use simple sentences she can repeat. Your goal is to help them move up to the next level of communication, whatever that is for your child, and you’ll soon be surprised by how much more communicative he/she is.