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Learning To Talk Right

Learning To Talk Right
Babies have an inbuilt interest in human voices and a natural tendency to listen and to concentrate when someone is talking. You can build on this as you did when your child was a baby.

How can I help my toddler learn to talk?

Talk as much and as often as you can directly to your toddler. Try to make some of these conversations just between you and him. If you are talking, or reading, to him and an older sibling, your toddler will not get as much repetition and explanation as he can use, and as much as he will get if he is alone with you. Look at him while you talk. Let him see your face and your gestures.

Let your toddler see what you mean, by matching what you do to what you say. "Off with your shirt," you say, taking it off over his head; "Now your shoes", removing them.

Let your toddler see what you feel by matching what you say with your facial expressions. This is no age for teasing (what age is?). If you give him a big hug while saying "Who's mummy's great horrible grubby monster then?" you will confuse him. Your face is saying "Who is mummy's gorgeous boy?"

Help your child to understand your overall communication; it does not matter whether he understands your exact words or not. If you cook something, put plates on the table and then hold out your hand to him saying, "It's lunch time now". He will understand that his lunch is ready and will come to his high chair. He might not have understood the words "lunch time now" without those other cues to go with them. He will learn the meanings of the words themselves through understanding them, again and again, in helpful contexts.

Share enthusiasm, emotion and emphasis; whether you are talking about a flood of love for your toddler or a flock of rare birds in the sky, those are the speech qualities that will catch and hold his attention and motivate him to try and understand what you are saying.

How can I help my toddler to communicate?

Help your child to realise that all talk is communication. If you chat away to yourself without waiting for a response or looking as if you want one, or if you don't bother to answer when he or another member of the family speaks to you, he is bound to feel that words are just meaningless sounds.

Don't have talk as background noise. If you like to have the radio on all day, try to keep it to music unless you are actually listening. If you are listening, let him see that you are receiving meaningful communication from the voice he cannot see.

Act as your toddler's interpreter. You will find it much easier to understand his language than strangers do and he will find it much easier to understand you and other "special" people than to understand strangers.

How can I teach my toddler about truth and lies?

Your child may learn new words and use them correctly, but he may miss the subtler meanings those words convey to adults. He cannot possibly understand the concept of a promise, for example. Yet he may well use the word. If you offer him five minutes more play if he promises to come straight to bed afterwards, he will happily say "promise". However, the word is nothing but an agreement label. After those five minutes, he wants a further five. He cannot understand the reproach in your voice as you say, "but you promised."

Words often make trouble over truth, too. Your toddler may talk fluently enough to issue accusations and denials long before their accuracy means anything to him. He talks as he feels. It might have been the dog that made that puddle: he wishes it had been and says that it was. During a quarrel with his sister, he falls and hurts his knee. He says that she pushed him -- which she did not. But although she did not hurt his knee, she did hurt his feelings. He is telling a kind of feeling-truth which just happens to be different from adult truth.

As he grows, you will be able to demonstrate the value of promises thoughtfully made and reliably kept; of truth (usually) told, and lies (mostly) avoided. But it is too soon yet. Don't corner him with concepts he cannot understand. He is doing his best to please, but if nothing less than child standards can please you, he will fail.


Toddlers are learning to talk about the present, past, and future.

* Young toddlers tend to talk about the present. "Me want cookie." You can help your toddler learn new words to talk about what he or she did in the past and will do in the future.

"Yesterday you went down the slide at the park. That was fun."

"Tomorrow we're going to the store. You can help push the cart."

* Talk with your toddler about what happened during the day:

"You had a busy day. This morning, you and Sam played in the sprinkler. You ate a peanut butter sandwich for lunch. After your nap we visited Poppy. What else did we do?"

* Talk with your toddler about what you will do tomorrow. "I think it's going to be sunny tomorrow. What would you like to do?"

How to help your toddler's caregiver:

Ask the caregiver what happened during the day. Talk to your toddler about the day's events at child care while eating dinner or at bedtime.
Toddlers want to learn more about talking.

* Some toddlers learn new words and phrases rapidly. Others still use gestures and sounds to tell their families what they want and need. Talk and read with your toddler, name the things the toddler points to, and tell the toddler the words he or she can use to make requests. "Say, 'Milk, please'.

* Most toddlers understand more words than they can say. Give your toddler simple directions and praise the child for following them:

"Please go to the bathroom and get your hairbrush."

"Great! You got the brush. Now you can brush your hair."

Toddlers use words to have fun and to learn.

* Play make-believe with your toddler. You can pretend to talk on the phone, feed a doll or stuffed animal, or go shopping. Talk while you play, and encourage your toddler to talk back:

"Brring, Brring. Hello. Yes, Todd's here. Would you like to talk to him? Okay, I'll give him the phone."

* Offer props such as a doctor's kit to help your toddler talk about her fears. She can be the doctor, while you are the patient. "Oh good! That shot only hurt a little."

* Say silly rhymes, such as, "The bed is on her head." Make up nonsense words like, "It's time to skidaddle to bed." Add a new verse to a song: "...and on his farm he had a pickle..."

* Ask your toddler silly questions to which the answer is "No"--one of every toddler's favorite words. "Do puppies wear pajamas?" "Is the sky green?"


Toddlers like listening to stories.

* Have a special time for reading with your toddler every day. Some families read after dinner or as a part of their bedtime routine. Toddlers may want to read a favorite book--again and again--because they love the story and love feeling close to you. When they get older they will have new favorites.

* Read when your toddler asks you to, so that your toddler will know that you think reading is important. If you can't stop what you are doing, suggest that the child look at a book alone for a while or ask another family member to read to the child.

* Take your toddler to the library so that the child can pick out his or her own books. Keep the books in a special place at home so that they won't get lost or damaged. Watch for secondhand children's books to buy at yard sales and local bazaars.

How to help your toddler's caregiver:

Tell the caregiver about the books you and your toddler like to read at home. Ask for suggestions of books your toddler would enjoy. Look for these books at the library or borrow them from the child care program.

Toddlers like to join in while you read out loud

* Look for books that let your toddler do something such as touch and feel the pictures. Some books can be scratched and sniffed, or squeezed to make noises. Some books have pull-tabs that make things pop up or move to reveal hidden pictures. Books like these may wear out before your toddler gets tired of reading them.

* Choose books with repeated words, rhymes, and phrases that your toddler can remember. If you read these books again and again, the child might join in at the right time and feel that he or she is reading too.

* Ask your toddler questions about the pictures in a book. "Who's that?" "Where do you think he's going?" "What do cows say?" Have the child point to people and objects in the pictures. "Where's the...?

* Talk about your toddler's real-life experiences. "That looks like your raincoat. What did you do when you played in the rain today?"

Toddlers like to look at books on their own.

* Keep your toddler's books on low, open shelves or in an open box or basket on the floor so that the child can reach them without help. Stand the books upright so that the covers are easy to see. Keep books in different places--in the bag that goes to child care, in the bathroom, in the car, and next to the child's bed.

* Suggest books your toddler might like to look at alone. The child can talk about the people and animals in a favorite book, make up a story about what's happening in a wordless picture book, or name the objects in a book filled with pictures.

* Help your toddler learn to care for books. Show your child how to turn the pages so they won't tear. Remind your child to put away books after reading them. Some well-loved books will wear out.

* Ask your toddler to help you fix his or her own damaged books. Your child can show you which pages are torn and hold the book open while you patch the pages.


Toddlers can build the muscles in their fingers while playing with homemade toys.

* Make a simple puzzle for your toddler by gluing a picture to cardboard and cutting it into five or six pieces. Provide dress-up clothes with buttons and zippers. Offer scrap paper to be torn.

* Make play dough that your toddler can roll, pound, and squeeze. Mix together 2 cups flour, 1 cup salt, 1 cup water, and 1 table-spoon of vegetable oil. Put food coloring in the water if you like. Add more flour if the dough is sticky. Store in an air-tight plastic bag or container.

* Let an older toddler borrow your safe kitchen tools--a wooden spoon, plastic knives and forks, a cookie cutter--to use with play dough.

How to help your toddler's caregiver:

Ask the caregiver for recipes for homemade fingerpaint and glue, and tips on using throwaways such as egg cartons and berry baskets as art materials for your toddler.

Toddlers use the muscles in their fingers and hands to do things for themselves.

* Plan your day so there's time for your toddler to wash, dress, and feed him- or herself. The child may take longer to put on sneakers than you do, but, "Me do it!" is a mark of pride.

* Make your home toddler friendly. A refillable pump soap dispenser is easier for your toddler to use than a bar of soap, and a small plastic cup fits in the toddler's hand. Keep the child's toothbrush where he or she can reach it.

Toddlers learn about writing by scribbling, watching you write, and seeing words around them.

* Look for inexpensive large pads of paper and large, nontoxic crayons, and washable markers. Save scrap paper and paper bags. Keep a supply of drawing and writing materials where your toddler can reach them.

* Ask your toddler to get some paper and crayons so you can write together. The child will learn about writing by watching you make a list, sign a check, or do a crossword puzzle. The child's scribbles are a way of copying what you are writing.

* Talk to your toddler about the scribbles. "You made a line and a dot. This line is thicker than that one. You used two colors, red and blue."

* Point to written words around you and read them out loud to your toddler. "Here comes our bus. It says 'Northside' on the front. That's where we're going." "These diapers are too small. We need a box that says 'over 30 pounds.'"

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