Parents are a child’s first educator. How parents talk to their toddler is one factor in how much and how well he or she will communicate as a preschooler.
Communicating well with toddlers takes patience and time. Due to the increasing demand on parents’ time, the daily schedule often turns into a marathon race to accomplish all of the day's tasks. Despite the hustle, it is very important that parents take time to “stop and smell the roses” with their children, especially at critical time periods when children act as sponges absorbing the language they will speak later.
This does NOT mean putting one more thing into the day’s schedule. In fact, communicating with children is best accomplished when the activity being talked about is a daily routine! It means “living in the moment” – being there 100% with the child, talking about what is happening.
For example, bath time is a great time to learn vocabulary, grammar and appropriate social language skills. Words such as “splash,” “wash,” “wet,” “soap,” “dry,” “hot," “cold,” as well as body parts can be said repeatedly to the child while checking the water temperature, washing, splashing, and drying off. This is most beneficial when a game or song can be made of the words – “Now we wash your toes, toes, toes, and then we wash your nose, nose, nose…(etc.).” Simply saying the words with emphasis while performing the actions (“SPLASH”) develops vocabulary, especially if it becomes a game that the child anticipates with bath time. You may soon be hearing a word that sounds like “splash” at times other than bath time. Confirm the word with your child – “Splash? You want to splash in the tub? Should we take a bath and splash?”
Letting your child know that you have understood encourages more and better communication. Many times, toddlers are attempting to communicate to the best of their ability, but we do not understand their meaning. Careful observation of what the child is doing, letting him/her begin the interaction, and then interpreting (not correcting) what the child is saying, regardless of clarity, are keys to furthering language ability. It also develops the necessary "turn taking" skills that create good interactive skills between speakers and listeners, which in turn create readiness for learning!
Toddlers communicate in many different ways, long before they “talk.” They cry, shake their heads, smile, reach, gesture, look at what they wish to have, and even act out what they want to say. These are prime opportunities to interpret what your child is saying in the way described above.
They also talk for many reasons. They will protest, ask for objects and actions, express their feelings and attempt to get attention. They may imitate, greet, as well as name or describe things as they get older. It is important to recognize these reasons for communicating by confirming that you understood. You may also repeat what they said to do this. Requests for your child to repeat these words correctly may prove frustrating for him or her. Simply showing that you understand and wish to communicate is best.
Toddlers also talk about many different things – food or drink, toys, clothes, pets, parents, brothers and sisters, etc. Knowing what your child likes to talk about and encouraging conversations about those likes, is also a good tool to further language skills.