Let your toddler play with books.

How to Teach Toddlers New Words

by Carolyn Robbins

Language acquisition is a very exciting area of development for parents of toddlers, and it's often a stressful one too. Some kids remain almost mute for months and then start speaking in full sentences. Others string together words at 12 months without speaking meaningfully. Just as important as expanding your child's vocabulary is teaching him how to use words appropriately. He will learn a lot from his environment and from interacting with you face to face. Don't spend too much time coaching your child to talk -- once he starts, he'll never stop!

Establish a routine for the day. Children thrive on predictability. Setting times for naps, meals, using the toilet, baths and playing will give you the opportunity to repeat related words several times each day. Write out a schedule in colorful print and post it on the wall. Before you move on to a new activity, point to the schedule and tell your toddler what is happening next.

Place a few of your toddler's favorite toys in sight but out of reach. Encourage him to point to the toy and ask for it by name. Make the rest of his toys easily accessible and ask him to show you his playthings. Point to each toy your child picks up and identify it by name.

Hang pictures of family members around the house. Tell your toddler the names of his family members as you pass by the photographs. A good place to hang photos is over the changing table. Naming family will become part of the diapering routine. Stick to it, and your child won't confuse you with Grandma anymore.

Read to your child every day. Point to words and pictures as you go through a story. Ask him questions about the book, such as, "What noise does a cat make?" Make books easily accessible to your child. Allow him to flip through them on his own so he begins to associate letters with spoken words.

Arrange for your child to socialize with other children. Help your toddler to notice another child's behavior. For example, you might say, "James is running toward the jungle gym." This may be the perfect time to teach your toddler how to interact with others appropriately. Gently correct your toddler if he "notices" out loud that his friend has a stinky diaper.

Make exaggerated facial expressions and gestures to help your child use new words appropriately. For instance, you might clap when you say "happy" or shake your head to say "yes."

Turn off the television. Although programs like Sesame Street may help children older than 3 to develop their language skills, younger toddlers need to interact directly with an adult speaker. A study conducted at Wake Forest University and published in Media Psychology in 2007 showed that children younger than 22 months generally do not learn from television shows.


  • If you are concerned about your toddler's language development, consult your pediatrician.

About the Author

Carolyn Robbins began writing in 2006. Her work appears on various websites and covers various topics including neuroscience, physiology, nutrition and fitness. Robbins graduated with a bachelor of science degree in biology and theology from Saint Vincent College.

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