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Is it too much to ask for an eloquent toddler? Well, kinda. It’s normal for strangers to not understand a single word that comes from your toddler’s mouth, and he’s totally typical when he goes for “cutesy” terms like “bankee” instead of “blanket” or “monk monk” instead of “monkey.” You can’t expect your toddler to talk like an adult; however, there are some delays that do require speech intervention.

Is My Toddler Normal?

When your toddler stutters, “Mom mom I want a duh duh drink,” you don’t need to zip off to your pediatrician. Toddlers might stutter or repeat entire words or phrases. The fact that your toddler is using full sentences is something to be applauded. Between ages 1 and 2, toddlers become able to follow simple directions and will even begin to make two-word sentences like, “Want ball.” Between ages 2 and 3, toddlers’ speech increases from about 50 words to 900 words and they are able to understand more complex sentences and directions — parents might be taken aback by this “explosion” of speech improvement. If you don’t see this vocabulary development, consult your child’s pediatrician.

Methods to Improve Receptive Language

One area in which a toddler might struggle is receptive language skills, or the ability to understand verbal language. You might be quick to assume your toddler is testing you when he gives you a blank stare after you say, “Pick up your fork,” but understand it might be a problem with receptive language. This issue could be a sign of a developmental delay or even as simple as an ear infection preventing your toddler from hearing you properly. To improve receptive language, face your toddler when you speak, limit extraneous noises while speaking, talk slowly — but without being condescending — and use gestures. For example, for a simple direction like, “Give me the ball,” outstretch your hand to reinforce the idea you want something from your toddler. Don’t use lots of words — keep your speech simple and use short phrases. Teach vocabulary by pointing to an object and naming it; this practice helps reinforce what your toddler can understand.

How to Encourage Expressive Language

Expressive language is the use of language, whether it be spoken or in the form of gestures. Problems in this area are often related to oral-motor difficulties, such as a problem with the tongue or roof of the mouth, making forming and speaking words very hard for a toddler. Speech intervention methods for expressive language might include imitation, where you help your tot repeat your words, or helping your toddler narrate play; for example, when your little one picks up a red block, say, “You have the red block” to demonstrate a sentence as well as introduce words like “red” and “block.” You can reinforce vocabulary throughout the day by narrating your own daily routines.

Social Interaction Methods

Both receptive and expressive communication can also be addressed through social interaction. Many moms will tell you about the extreme joy of playdates — either you let some other parent deal with your kid for a couple hours or you let your toddler enjoy the company of a playmate his own age under your supervision. Toddlers can be taught to initiate social interaction through playing with peers, which can jumpstart language skills. You should also interact with your toddler through play and reading to improve literacy skills. When you require a response from your toddler, don’t just sit around and hope your child will imitate you. Instead, don’t give your child the banana or his favorite toy until he at least attempts to communicate with you. If you are working on pointing as communication, wait until your child lifts his arm or attempts to lift one finger. If you’re working on verbal speech, you might count “ba” for “banana.” Base your response on your child’s current level of ability; don’t hold out so long that he throws a tantrum because he’s hungry.