Grocery shopping provides an opportunity to stimulate your child's speech.

Techniques to Encourage Speech in a Late-Talking Toddler

by Michele Norfleet

Comparing your toddler to the children of friends and relatives can be frustrating, especially when your toddler's speech development hasn't kept up with his peers. A conversation with your pediatrician can help you determine whether your child is developing within normal limits, even if a bit slowly. She may recommend an evaluation by a speech pathologist. In the meantime, a focused approach to speech and language stimulation may put you ahead of the game and put your toddler on the road to building his vocabulary.

1. Late Talkers

Although there are developmental norms to consider, the American-Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) points out factors that help predict when a child may have ongoing language difficulties versus simply being a late talker. According to ASHA, toddlers who have average receptive language skills are less likely to have continuing language problems. Children who use a lot of gestures or who show regular progress in speech development are also more likely to develop speech normally, even though it may be slower than their peers.

2. Talking to Your Child

As a mom, you want to give your child every advantage. Though it may seem trite, one of the best ways to get your toddler talking is to talk to her about everything throughout the day. Using simple but grammatical sentences gives her a speech model that she can attempt herself. When you go to the grocery store, talk about the foods you see. “Here are some carrots. Let’s get some carrots and make a salad.” When she says a word, expand on that. If she says “ball,” respond with, “Yes, that’s a ball. Balls bounce. Let's play ball!” Above all, don’t be discouraged; she won’t start talking overnight. Keep up your efforts to stimulate her language.

3. Gestures

Gestures are your toddler's attempt to communicate. While you don't want him to rely on gestures alone, until he has the words to use, acknowledge and accept his gesturing, but try to pair words with his gestures. If he brings you his cup, say, “Juice? Do you want apple juice? Let’s put some juice in your cup.” Give him a choice of two items, such as apple juice or orange juice, and wait for his response.

4. Rhymes

Reciting rhymes and children’s songs with your toddler allows her to hear the rhythm of speech. The repetition in these rhymes bombards her with language that she'll enjoy listening to and repeating. Children love to hear the same rhymes over and over again. This is all a part of their learning. Help her clap or tap the beat when singing rhymes. To get her started singing and chanting rhymes, begin a favorite rhyme and leave out a word for her to fill in, such as “Jack and Jill went up the--”.

5. Read

Reading storybooks to your child gives him visual cues to pair with words. Point out the pictures as you read simple stories. Books with limited language and clear illustrations help to simplify language for your little one. As you read, stop and point to pictures and talk about the story. Ask him the names of things and about the actions in the story. Just like songs and rhymes, kids love to hear the same story over and over again. You may be tired of "Brown Bear," but your toddler won’t be. Make your own books out of photos of your activities together. Write short sentences to describe the activities in the photos. He's sure to enjoy “reading” his own story with you.

About the Author

Michele Norfleet is a freelance writer who writes on travel, home and garden and education topics. She has coauthored a handbook for teachers on school-wide discipline and has contributed tips for special-needs students in the basal curriculum for RCL Benziger. Norfleet holds a master's degree from Southern Illinois University and has experience as a special-needs teacher and speech pathologist.

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