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Talking With Your Child

Talking With Your Child
At 12 to 16 months, your toddler's understanding of new words is growing rapidly. A toddler can point to pictures in a book when you ask him, point to a few body parts (i.e. head, belly, toes), follow simple commands ("Get the car.") and respond to simple questions ("Where's the kitty?").

A toddler will understand more words than he will actually say. He may only be saying one or two words, most likely words he hears frequently such as, "more, ball, or baby." As he listens to his parents and caregiver's speech, he will start to imitate more words. He will use "jargon" (unintelligible talk with adult like inflection patterns) frequently, and then start to combine true words with jargon to communicate a message.

"Henry started to form words and put words together at about 15 to 18 months, but Charlie didn't seem to be heading in that direction. So, that's when I spoke to the pediatrician about it," says Kathy O'Brien, M.Ed., guidance counselor and mother of 4-year-old Henry and 2-year-old Charlie. "I didn't feel comfortable waiting, so we immediately started using suggestions from professionals in the field. We started making changes on how we communicated with him."

Providing a rich language environment for toddlers is essential. Talk about everything that you or your toddler is doing ("That's a big cookie. That cookie tastes good.") Also, talk about things in your environment ("See the blue bird. That bird is flying up in the sky.") Help your toddler learn to ask questions, like "More cookie?" or "Help?"

"We began saying the word we thought he was trying to say repeatedly, in hopes that he would repeat it," says O'Brien. "We gave him choices like, ‘cookie or cracker.' It's amazing how easy it is. If you have a ball and you say ‘bounce bounce bounce' and all of a sudden your child says ‘bounce, bounce.' It's like magic!"

"Anything that you do throughout the day like getting dressed, walking down the stairs, or changing a diaper is a language modeling opportunity," says Michelle Mitchell, M.Ed, CCC-SLP speech-language pathologist and mother of Parker, 10, Barrett, 7, and Brynn, 4.

"At this age, children enjoy cause and effect games. ‘Hide and Seek' is a great example of this type of game," she says. "Go around a corner and when they say a sound or a word, respond by saying, ‘Boo' or ‘Did you call me?' Then say, ‘Bye, bye.' Do this again and again."

Mitchell also suggests using any toy to create communication temptations to encourage your toddler to make sounds or words. "Help your child stack blocks by handing him each block. One time, hand him another toy and wait to see his reaction. Your toddler will probably respond with a sound or a word. Then say, ‘Oh, that's not a block, it's a ball!' It is the element of surprise that keeps them interested!" says Mitchell.

Between 16 to 20 months your toddler will continue to learn and use new words. He may even start to combine two words. His understanding of language is continuing to grow. Toddlers love to listen to simple stories. Read to them and enjoy nursery songs or rhymes. You will become very familiar with these activities because your toddler will request that you repeat them many times. All this repetition helps his language development. Eventually, your toddler will start singing or repeating some of the words. To encourage his imitation, try to pause briefly when reading or singing to allow him the opportunity to chime in and sing a note or two!

Mitchell says that sometimes parents model language too much and never allow their child opportunities to talk themselves. "Give them a lot of time to respond to questions and expand their language on their own," says Mitchell. "One day, don't hand your child their breakfast bowl (like you do everyday), just continue the breakfast routine, like getting the spoon and juice cup. Wait, and see if your child asks for the bowl."

Additionally, your toddler's words may be missing certain sounds that he is not developmentally ready to say. He may omit sounds at the end of words and say things such as, "boa" for "boat" or will shorten words like, "nana" for "banana."

However, he is now using many different consonant sounds at the beginning of words, such as, "b, p, m, t, d, n, h, k, and g." Try to exaggerate the sounds in words to encourage his use of a variety of speech sounds. Model final sounds by stressing the final consonant. For example, "I see a caT." Encourage sounds by using them in play, "Here comes a snake, SSSSSSS."

At approximately 18 to 24 months, children go through a motor development stage. They now can run, jump and climb. "Try to incorporate motor and language activities," says Mitchell. "Play the ‘Simon Says' game. For example, ‘Mommy jump. You jump.' Imitate action words like, ‘jump' or ‘run' while doing motor play." What a great time to encourage both motor and language skills!

By 24 months, your toddler will be using approximately 100 words or more. "A child is a very competent communicator by 24 months," says Mitchell. A 2-year-old may use two or more word sentences like, "Where kitty?" or "Me go car." Try to expand your toddler's words by modeling "adult-like" sentences. For instance, "Where is the kitty?" Build his vocabulary by reading books, talking about his environment and using a variety of new vocabulary words.

By this age, your toddler is able to tell you what he wants, tell you how he feels, talk about people or things and ask questions. Wow! Just 12 short months ago he had a few single words! Now he can participate in conversations. Imagine where his language will be in one year from now! So, don't put your sneakers away just yet. Your toddler still needs his "language coach" to enrich his skills. Remember, the skills he learns today will prepare him for a lifetime of adventure!


Talking with someone puts you and the other person on an even footing. it gives more than one person a chance to express a belief or opinion. Talking to someone, on the other hand, is being....well, patronizing, or worse, domineering, even tyrannical. So only one person has a chance.

Every child knows the difference between being talked with and talked to. But many of us, when we talk....and children are the audience...don't stop to distinguish between with and to. We respond to the needs of the moment...what must be said. As adults and parents, we feel responsible for what our children do and for what happens to them.

We feel especially responsible when we have done our best and a son or daughter is not responding. Whenever you want your children to know what you think and desire of them, you might keep in mind a few things that will help you focus on talking with, rather than talking to, them:

  • Communicate as clearly as possible exactly what you mean. Listen to your words and think how they might be misinterpreted if they don't reflect exactly what is on your mind.

  • Listen to what your children are saying. Try to understand exactly what their words mean.

  • Whenever you talk with your children, take an even, reasonable, conversational tone. If you show anger, make sure later that they understand its cause. You can explain it without being overly apologetic.

  • If your children have subjects they are enthusiastic about, let them teach you something about those areas of knowledge.

  • Contribute your wisdom. You have had the opportunity to learn a great deal from your experiences. Don't feel put down when your children say "in your day" or "in olden times, when you were a kid...." Remember that young people are interested in how things were done in the past, and they haven't lived long enough to have your sense of time.

  • Encourage your children's curiosity, interest in discovery, and intellectual independence. Ask questions that make them think about their interests and want to learn more about them.

  • If a child is having problems in or out of school, don't waste time blaming yourself. Although you certainly share the responsibility for your children's development, yours is not the only influence on their behavior. Touch base often with your children about the problems they may be having. Be practical and help them look for solutions, both short- and long-term.
Keep in mind that you can't shield your children from the problems of the real world. Nor can you keep accidents from happening. Some attempts at good parenting may be overzealous. By trying to avoid being too protective and solicitous for your children's concerns you can help them to become truly independent people. An adult who is independent can also appreciate the warmth and support of close human relationships. Talking with a child is one of the best ways to show that you understand the value of that warmth and support and know how to give it.



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