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How to Increase Everyday Communication Opportunities for Babies and Toddlers

Updated: May 16, 2019

Toddlers communicate in a variety of ways: through facial expression, gestures, emotions and words. They use language to request, reject, ask questions, convey emotion and comment. I’ve included some tips to help encourage more communication attempts and words from your young child during every day activities. These are strategies I use every day during speech therapy sessions with babies and toddlers. Believe me, they work!

1. Imitation –

Imitate your baby! You can imitate their play, sounds and gestures. If they say a sound or make a funny noise, say it back in a fun way! Watch carefully for opportunities to inmate your child. If they put a book on their head, you put the book on your head. If they clap, you clap. If they say “bababa” you say it back. Next you say a word or sound, and see if they will imitate you.

2. Expand –

If your child is using single words to communicate; expand on their word and model a phrase. Expansion encourages your child to combine words together.  It’s important to keep your language just 1 step above your child’s. Use short phrases instead of lengthy sentences. For example, if your baby requests for “ball,” instead of giving it to them right away, you can say “play ball,” “want ball” or “roll ball.”

3. Give Choices –

If your child points or reaches for something general, offer verbal choices to help narrow down what they want (even if you know what they want!). Giving two choices provides a great language model to help them say new words. If your child points to the fridge, you can say, “do you want juice or water?” Show them the 2 choices and give them an opportunity to respond.  They could point again or they might just attempt to say a new word.

4. Out of Reach -

Keeping toys in view but out of reach is a great way to encourage requesting. Think on a high shelf, on the countertop or in a closet. If your child points or fusses to ask for a toy, prompt your child by giving them 2 choices.

5. Withholding –

In order to increase your child’s expressive language, whether through gestures, signs of words, you can withhold items your child desires, like pieces of a toy (i.e. puzzle pieces) or a snack food to encourage requesting.  Give your child 1 small amount of the food (i.e. 1 goldfish or 1 cheerio) and wait for them to request for more. If they reach, point or grab for it, model the word “more,” or “food.” If your child is already using single words, offer a phrase, “more cheerios” or “more goldfish please.” The same goes for play. I love using toys with lots of pieces (i.e. puzzles, blocks, container toys) because it provides ample of opportunities for requesting. Don’t give your child all the blocks at once, keep some in the bag and encourage them to ask for more.

6. Clear Containers –

This is one of my all time favorites. Your child can see the items and toys inside but can’t open it with their tiny hands [insert communication opportunity here!]. They will need to ask for help to get that darn toy. Depending on your child’s developmental level, try modeling words and phrases like, “open please” “help me” “open” or use the sign for open.

7. Do Something Unexpected –

Roll a ball back and forth several times, then substitute the ball for another toy, like a toy car. Hold both toys and wait for your child to comment about the change or request for the item he wants.

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