Help your toddler to speak clearly and you will understand what she's saying better.

How to Teach Toddlers to Speak Clearly

by Stephen Maughan

According to child development expert Professor G.C. Davenport, from around 18 months your child's language will start to blossom. The days in which you could only understand her simple "Mama" and "Dada" are gone. Instead, she will start to combine what words she knows into simple sentences such as "Me drink" or "Apple all gone." This is an exciting time for both you and your child as her language skills grow and you can engage in a little light conversation together. But it can also be frustrating for both of you, particularly if you have difficultly understanding what exactly your child is saying. Is she asking for a drink or to go to sleep? Luckily, there are a few tips to help her speech development.

Supporting Language Development

Teacher and speech therapist Jill McMinn believes small children need praise and encouragement in developing their speech. She argues a child has to feel relaxed and comfortable, and not to be criticized or ignored for saying a word wrong. Take time to reassure your child you understand her, even if you aren't exactly sure what she just said. Never criticize her or call her lazy for not trying harder. This will, according to McMinn, give her a negative association toward speech and may make her withdrawn and lead to later problems with speech.

An effective way to learn the sounds of each letter is to use the phonic alphabet, where the sound of each word is made instead of the letter. So you would say "Da" is for "Daddy." To encourage this you could have a picture alphabet wall chart and talk about the sounds of each picture -- "'Ca' is for cat." As she gets older the phonics sounds learned will be a vital tool of her language and literary development. Phonics are recommended as a way of improving speech and language problems of nursery and school children.

Play games together. You've probably never met a child that doesn't like to play, and engaging in some playing activities that reinforce sounds and letters can do wonders for your child's speech. If, for example, she has problems pronouncing "S," make a sock snake puppet together and use it for making a hissing "sss" sound that you can use to correct her speech. If, for example, instead of "said" she says "I phed no," you can encourage her to make the snake say "I ssss-said no."


  • If you really cannot understand what your toddler is saying, instead of asking her to repeat it and risking her getting frustrated and giving up, you can also ask her to show you what she means, or if she is able, to draw a picture.
  • If you continue to be concerned about your child's speech, then visit your family doctor for advice.


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