Toddler Not Talking Yet? Here Are 5 Ways You’re Blocking Your Kid’s Communication Skills, According to a Speech Therapist

how to get toddler to talk

It’s the moment that every parent waits for...when your cooing and babbling babe can finally (finally!) communicate with you. Not only is it adorable to hear those first words, but it also means that you’re one step closer to being able to figure out what the hell they want/need. We chatted to sibling speech therapist duo Speech Sisters to discover the top five things parents should stop doing if they want their kid to start talking. 

1. Stop Asking So Many Questions

You’re in the park and you spot a dog, so of course you want to point it out to your kid: “Is that a doggy? What does the doggy say? Do you want to play with the doggy? 

Exhausting, right? (Just imagine if someone fired questions at you all day long.)

“Toddlers don’t like being constantly quizzed and put on the spot, and it actually tends to limit verbalizations and stop interactions,” say the experts.

What to do instead: For every one question you ask, make three related comments to reduce pressure and keep your interaction going. You might try saying, “what's that?" as you are pointing at the dog. Then follow-up with, “that's a dog,” and “he’s a big dog.” Finally, say, “the dog says woof, woof!” Your kid will be learning new words, minus the stress.

2. Stop Saying “Say…”

Grandma comes for a visit and you tell your kid to “say Nana!” or you see your friend on the street and it’s “say hello!”

Similar to the point above, toddlers don’t like being under pressure to talk, say Speech Sisters. “You can reduce this pressure by eliminating the word ‘say’.”

What to do instead: Repeat your target word up to five times during the interaction, “Look who’s here, it’s Nana… Nana... Nana. Let’s go and give Nana a big hug. Nana...”

3. Stop Stealing Communication Opportunities from Your Child

This one’s a big one, say Speech Sisters. In fact, it’s the most common problem they see in their practice. And it’s easy to see why—it’s in a parent’s nature to try to predict what their child wants and needs. But by anticipating your child’s every need by giving them what they want before they ask for it, you’re essentially robbing them of the opportunity to communicate. 

What to do instead: “A better approach is to manipulate the situation so your toddler has to communicate in order to receive a desired object or action. For instance, place preferred toys out of reach so that your little one has to communicate in some way (i.e., point, gesture, grunt, sound, word) in order to receive what she wants.”

4. Stop Teaching Academic Language Too Soon

Of course, you want your little genius to rattle off the colors of the rainbow and count to ten. But these words aren’t particularly useful, say Speech Sisters, until your kid has mastered the basics.

“Your toddler may enjoy learning about letter names, numbers, colors and shapes, but if he can’t say “hi” or “help” and only says “blue”, “one” and “circle”, how functional will his language be?” Cue the toddler tantrum because your kid can say the word “pink” but can’t ask for their sippy cup.

What to do instead: Focus on functional word categories like objects, actions, locations and greetings first. “To help lessen your toddlers frustration and get their needs/wants met, try starting with the following words instead; “hi/bye, help, more, all done, eat/drink, up/down, in/out, on/off, open/close, mama/dada.”

5. Stop Expecting Too Much, Too Soon 

After months of gurgling and babbling, it finally happens—your baby says their first word! And while this is certainly cause for celebration, don’t expect your tot to start talking in full sentences anytime soon.

“Expressive language development typically follows a hierarchy,” say Speech Sisters. Here’s what to expect and in what order: cooing, babbling, imitation of sounds, gestures, gesturing with sounds, single words, two word phrases, 3+ word sentences and then—finally—conversation.

What to do instead: If your child is at one level, your goal is to work to get them to the next level. Many parents don't realize that verbalizing is not the only form of expressive communication. Gestures (pointing/reaching), signs, making sounds, facial expressions and even eye gaze all play a huge role in communication too, so don’t discount these steps.

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Executive Editor

Alexia Dellner is an executive editor at PureWow who has over ten years of experience covering a broad range of topics including health, wellness, travel, family, culture and...