Top 10 Tips for Engaging your Toddler
Updated: Jul 22
So your toddler isn't talking and you're wondering how to help? First of all, I encourage you to reach out to your local speech therapist for an assessment... In the meantime, here are 10 ways you can help engage your kiddo and help increase their language!
Get face to face
One of the best ways to help your toddler engage in more communication with you is to get down on their level and make sure they can see your face. This is how you show you're engaged and interested, and lets them see all of the valuable information your face conveys (what in particular you're attending to, emotions, visuals of how to make sounds...)
Follow their lead
Now that you're on their level, ask how to join in on their idea of fun. Your kiddo wants nothing more than to flip the light switch on and off? Pretend to be scared when the lights go off and react with exaggerated relief when it comes back on. Is your child really into banging and noise making? Find some items that make other noises and play along.
You're on their level, you've joined in the fun - now what? Pause your fun to give your kid a chance to shine, and see if they'll do the same. This back-and-forth, turn-taking kind of play lays the groundwork for conversation. Helping them to see the value in attending to what you are doing, and modifying what they're doing in response, is such an important skill!
Use verbal routines
Ready, set... go! Verbal routines are any set of words you always say together, and they're a great way to give your child a low-effort way to engage in communication. Give them the start and then a suspenseful pause. If they don't give you the excited GO! fill it in for them, and try again next time.
Having a hard time coming up with verbal routines? It doesn't have to be fancy, you can build one out of any part of your day. Here are some of our favorite!
Sometimes called Motherese, Parentese is when parents use simple (but correct!) grammar, elongated vowels, and a higher, more exaggerated pitch. It is an incredibly important for helping your child learn language! Not only does it help keep your child engaged with the sing-song rhythm, but it also helps give their brains cues for what to focus on. It might feel weird if you're not used to it, but try going all out with the exaggeration and see how your kiddo responds!
If you want to give your toddler the best chance of understanding what you are saying, you need to go slooooow. We want to be exciting and active to keep their attention, but if we go to fast it won't stick. Along with varying your voice, slowing down is an important way to help your child figure out what part of your speech to focus on.
In addition to slowing down and varying your pitch, try saying less. I know that might sound contrary to advice you've heard (talk to them all the time - the more the better!) but you want to keep your sentences at a developmentally appropriate length. For an early communicator "Look, a big dog!" is going to have more of an impact that "Look at the big dog walking next to the car!"
Repetition is key
Depending on what research you're looking at, it can take anywhere up to about 17 meaningful exposures for a typically developing child to learn a new word. For children with language impairments, it can take a lot more than that! If you're trying to help them learn the word "up", how many different ways can you practice it in one day? Go up the stairs, pick the toys up, climb up the ladder, pick the baby up, throw the ball up. If you feel like you've said the word too many times in one day, you're probably on the right track.
While you're engaging in all of this face-to-face, child-led turn taking play, remember to keep your demands low. Model the words, with your slow and exaggerate speech, and make it as funny as possible to invite them to imitate you, but avoid giving them an outright request to "say up"! It's a quick way to turn play into work, and no one likes to be told to do work. That's why the most important part is to....
Be silly, make it fun! The goofier you are, the more likely you are to keep your kid engaged. If you follow no other advice from here, but you truly take the time to be present and have fun with your kiddo, at the very least you'll have strengthened your relationship and made them feel connected, and that is the foundation of communication.
Do you have any questions or concerns about your child's speech and language development?
Reach out today to schedule a free initial consultation!