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Communicating with your toddler

As your baby grows into a toddler and starts saying their first words, it’s an incredibly exciting time. Find out about toddler talk, using stories and more on development.

Toddler talk and play

All talk and play between you and your baby is valuable. As your baby grows, it is even more important to be ‘on the same wavelength’, knowing what is interesting him at the moment and being ready to follow his lead or think of new ideas to entertain and stimulate him.

This isn’t always easy. You may be feeling tired, especially if you are now balancing work and family life, and concerned about getting domestic routines completed as well as playing and chatting. But there is lots of help at hand to give you ideas!

Rhymes and songs for a toddler

Rhymes and songs are wonderful sources of early learning and enjoyment. Rhymes help your baby to understand the importance of sounds, and repetition means the words are easily learnt. The rhythm of simple verse can be linked to actions, whether just jogging up and down on your knee or suiting gestures to the meaning of the words.

Use CDs to remind you of songs and rhymes, or to learn new ones, but don’t forget to sing to your child as well, without the backing. You may think you don’t have a great voice, but he does and he loves to hear it. Look for new ideas as he gets older but go back to the old ones too, especially if he is tired or not well. The familiarity is welcome and comforting.

Books and stories for a toddler

Books and simple stories can start in use as early as you like. Looking at a book together is enjoyable and can be a signal that it is time to calm down and have a restful period – perhaps before bedtime or a daytime nap. Remember that in the early years you are not trying to teach your child to read. Just use book-sharing as an opportunity to cuddle up and talk together. Let your child point out the pictures to you and offer names of objects.

Children’s books are available in every shape, size and style. Some are deliberately chewable, or waterproof for taking in the bath. You may want to think about whether you’d like some books kept in good condition, to be looked back at later.

It is not too hard to make up your own books, with a home printer. You can use your own photos or drawings, with a few added words or your child’s name. Bind the sheets of paper or card with string or ribbon, rather than using staples. When he is a bit older, he can join in making books too, using the pictures he has drawn.

Using different languages

Many families use more than one language. You may have a particular reason for your child to grow up using a certain language, perhaps to talk to other members of the family who don’t speak English. It is best to talk in the early days in whichever language you are most comfortable and fluent. In this way, your child will learn a wide vocabulary and how to use language easily. Later on it will be easier for him to learn another language because he has had the early experience of your fluent speech. Bilingual children in general benefit from their knowledge of two or more languages, and learn others more easily.

Your verbal toddler

If you are wondering 'when does a baby start talking?', it is usually sometime between the first and second birthday. Your child will begin to use words and even put them together into two word phrases (although, as with all milestones, individual children vary greatly). Listening and responding carefully to your child can help with toddler language development and will encourage him to use the words he knows and learn many more.

If you are out and about a lot, for example getting to work or picking up other children from school or nursery, it can be helpful to think about maximising the time to have one-to-one ‘conversations’. For example, you can consider buying a buggy where the child’s seat faces you, so you can talk while in eye contact. If you are driving, of course you need not to be distracted, but try to reply to sounds or words as soon as you can, so that he does not feel frustrated at the lack of response.

Age-appropriate television programmes can extend your child’s language skills, but about half an hour a day for the under-twos is the recommended maximum. As much as possible, watch with him, so you can discuss what you are watching.

Key points for toddler language development

  • Make his environment ‘language-rich’ with plenty of stories, books, rhymes and conversation.
  • Listen carefully to his early words and don’t criticise or draw attention to mistakes, simply repeat the words properly.
  • Where possible make eye contact before speaking so you know he is listening.
  • Try to avoid the habit of frequent instructions. Talk should be fun, not bossy, and children need the opportunity to talk, not just to listen.
  • Avoid having the television or radio on as a constant background noise.

Further information

http://www.talktoyourbaby.org.uk/ - A dedicated website from the National Literacy Trust with useful, clear information about early communication skills.

http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/ - Covers all speech, language and literacy issues, including evidence-based discussion for and against baby signing.