Encouraging Toddler’s Speech… The good, the bad and the funny!

As a speech language pathologist (SLP) I can appreciate each stage of speech and language development that my daughter has gone through and continues to go through.  I taught her a few baby signs, and she was speaking some real words (Real= understood by unfamiliar listeners with a true meaning attached) around 7 months old. Now she is 2 years old and a chatterbox. Her speech isn’t perfect, but I know when her “cute” little Aadie-isms are just that… cute, laughable, something that she will grow out of.  I also when to cue her and correct her language or speech sounds.

I know she will not call a hospital a hopsadoodle forever.  But it drives me banana sandwiches when she asks me for a foon instead of a spoon.  Both are completely age accepted errors and actually quite typical, but you better believe I taught her how to say “ssssspoon” correctly over lunch yesterday, and that I may egg her on to keep calling it a hopsadoodle. 😉

Often I work with professionals and talk to moms who aren’t so sure of this. It’s easy to say “Just encourage them! Don’t worry until there is something to worry about.” I don’t like those sayings because people don’t know what they don’t know. A lot of times parents really don’t know when they should worry and what to worry about.  Sometimes intentions are great, but actions end up being detrimental.

Photography by: Gabby Cowin

Here is my two cents about helping to encourage as well as correct a toddler’s speech and language…

The Good

1. Talk to your child in real, complete and kid friendly language. Children learn by listening. If you don’t provide a great model, they can’t learn.

2. Try the phrase “look at how I say it” and direct your child to look at your mouth as you slowly say a word that they mispronounce, correctly.  If they seem interested, say it a couple of times and then move along. No big deal. (believe me they are soaking it up)

3. Slow it down.  Speaking slowly and clearly will allow your toddler to hear individual sounds and words which helps them process language and attach meaning to what you’re saying. When you speak quickly words tend to blend together, and even though your babe might get the gist of what you’re saying they will struggle to use words to form sentences back to you (For example: itiSprOBAbLymOrEDifFicULTtoreADTHis than it is to read this).

Aadie helped me time our speech today, we decided that a good, slow (but not too slow) rate of speech should take you about 25 seconds to say the words to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

4.  Applaud their attempts! Especially when your child is just starting to speak or string words together.  If they see that you are excited when they speak, they will feel good and try to do it again. Even if it isn’t perfect at first, you need to have words in order to correct words.

5. Sing! If your little one doesn’t have a lot to say, try to incorporate songs into your day. Music activates different parts of the brain and can help with memory and recall as well as language development. Daniel Tiger, anyone?? I do actually love DT, but I am pretty sure I sing those songs in my sleep.

The Bad

1. Ditch the baby talk. Goes along with #1 above… If you speak to them using baby talk, that is how they will learn to speak.

2. Don’t make them feel bad. It isn’t a good idea to force your little one to copy you or say words over and over again until they get it right.  They will become frustrated, and may speak less.

3. Forget “please”. If you require that your child says “please” after every request you may be stunting their language growth. Typically when babies and toddlers are learning to speak they start with 1 word at a time, then string together 2, and then 3 etc. If “please” is always at the end of their sentences in order for their request to be acknowledged it leaves less room for new words or longer phrases.  Give them a break at first, and remember that this doesn’t mean they don’t have to be polite.

4. Don’t be your child’s translator.  The general rule of thumb is that by age 4, children should be able to speak to someone who is not familiar with them, and be understood most of the time. If by 3 years old you are the only one who can understand your child and meet his/her needs you may want to consider seeing an SLP.

5. Don’t just let it slide. If you have concerns about your child’s speech development, seek out an SLP.  Trust your gut about your child! I would much rather have a parent reach out about their 2-3 year old and be able to reassure them, than meet a 5-6 year old with major speech needs.

The Funny

1. Words that aren’t quite words. I just love this example because she says it with full confidence. When asked where she would go if she got a big boo boo, she replies “to the hopsadoodle”.

2. “Over extension”  This happens when they learn a new word or sound and suddenly everything they previously knew goes out the window.  Aadie learned the “SP” sound blend for ‘spoon’ yesterday, and today she asked for a “spoon, sp-fork and sp-cup”.  She was very proud of her new sound. I just gently reminded her that although she was doing a GREAT job, not every word begins with “sp”. She told me “Sp-ok, Mama” and then burst out laughing “I told you a funny joke!”.

**Side note: Sound blends like SP, FR, KW, BL etc. are considered later to develop and it is very much OK that kids don’t use them correctly until about 5 years old. Kids will either replace both sounds with an easier one (foon for spoon), or remove one of the two sounds in the word (poon for spoon).

3. WHAT DID SHE JUST SAY??? We have had quite a few of these moments with our little Aadie Belle.  My personal favorite is one that made my husband go white in the face before bursting out laughing.  This happened a while ago, when she was in the “what that?” or super fun, labeling stage. She just wanted to know the name of everything. We have a giant clock in our dining room and the day finally came… she looked up at me and pointed to it… “What that mama??” Laughing already because I could see where this was headed (remember my side note about sound blends?) That’s a clock, sweetie pie. “Ohh cock!! Pretty! Big cock”.  Super mature, but I couldn’t stop laughing.  Hubby got home from work a little while later and immediately I coached her.. Tell Dada about what you learned about today, pointing to the clock… “DADA, I LOOOVE DA BIG COCK!”

I could go on and on about this stuff, but I will end it here!  I’d love to hear about other funny speechie moments you’ve had with your little ones!

Bex copy

15 thoughts on “Encouraging Toddler’s Speech… The good, the bad and the funny!

  1. Great post!! My four year old only recently started say things like “spoon” correctly. He was saying “poon.” Words that began with S, the S got dropped. Now he sometimes does the over extension thing but it’s with “st” and its usually when he’s not sure of himself. He has always been a good talker though, definitely understood by others the majority of the time, and had definitely said some funny things. My favorite Zaneism is “purprise” for “surprise.”

    My 18 month old has three words and we are getting concerned. He’s very smart and definitely hears and understands us. The pediatrician suggested an early intervention program if he doesn’t start talking soon. What do you think about that?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading. Great to hear that Zane is starting to use sound blends. Doesn’t it make him sound so much more grown up!? So cool, but also a little sad. lol.
      As for your little one, I don’t blame you for being concerned. You are right in the greyest area as far as development. Although it is “ok” for words not to develop until 18 months, we then expect approx 50-200 words and 2 word phrases by age 2. There is a huge range. It sounds like receptively he is understanding you but just expressively not using many words. That scenario is somewhat common. If it was my child I would probably look into EI to jump start their language use if they aren’t using more than 5-10 words by 20 months.
      In the mean time my suggestion would be to use parallel talk as much as possible. This means to describe or broadcast to him what he is doing or seeing, without expecting a response. It will feel like you never ever stop talking, but it is the best way to give children exact words and language forms to copy, especially if they are not sure about talking. Keep phrases short, either 1 or 2 words, so he can try to copy you if he wants to, but don’t force him to.
      Sorry for such a long response. Good luck, and feel free to ask more questions if you have them!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you! I will try parallel talk. The pedi didn’t mention this. He said to talk to him a lot and read to him. But what you said makes a lot of sense. I appreciate the lengthy response. He makes so many speech sounds and communicates in other ways. We just need words. Thanks so much!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I absolutely LOVE this blog – one of the things I wish I knew more about was physical child development. I know a lot about the psychological development, but speech is a blend of the two that I have never had a chance to study. This should come in incredibly handy for me when my son starts to talk. Thank you so much for sharing! And also for sharing the funny parts, too! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Really great post! Thanks for sharing your expertise. Oh my about the clock!!!! We’re never too old to laugh at that!!!
    I am so happy you say not to use baby talk. I abhor baby talk! I’m so glad I use my normal language and vocabulary with my kids – it shows with them. My favorite phrase my 3.5yo sad was when she told my MIL, at my kid’s 3rd birthday, that it was “problematic if you don’t know what problematic means.” !!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Really interesting read and reminds me if a lot of the training around speech and language development over the years in my Early Years teaching career. Especially liked the reminder about the ‘please’! Too true x x

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Monday Mealtime Musings… a pronoun funny | Bexer's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s