Speech Therapy for Toddlers at Home

March 4, 2024

If you’re anything like me, even before your sweet little one was born you were probably already daydreaming about hearing those first words. But maybe you’ve been doing all the right things - reading lots of books, singing songs, talking to your toddler all day long - and they still aren’t talking. If you’re feeling defeated and frustrated and wondering if there’s more you could be doing, you are NOT alone! I’ve been there! 

The great news is that you CAN play an active part in your child’s speech and language development. 

You don’t have to be a speech therapist like me to use the strategies and tips I talk about below. And you don’t have to add one more thing to your full plate. You can easily incorporate these strategies into what you’re already doing every day with your toddler at home. I want you to feel confident helping your toddler communicate more and stay engaged longer. 

Connect First

Connection is one of the most important parts of communication. Find a game or toy that you can enjoy with your little one. Don’t worry if the toys aren’t “educational.” Bubbles, cars, dinosaurs, stuffed animals, dolls, blocks, ….whatever is most interesting to your child will help hold their attention longer and will help you both have FUN together. When we’re having fun, we’re much more relaxed, and it’s easier to learn and absorb information.

(By the way, if you’re interested in some specific strategies to incorporate into your play time, you might enjoy my Talking with Toys YouTube series where I go over easy and fun things you can do to help your toddler talk with cars, dinosaurs, dolls, and MagnaTiles.)

Get Face-to-Face With Your Toddler

One of the best ways to connect with your toddler is to get face-to-face with them. During playtime, sit or kneel to align your eyes with your child’s. Hold toys up to your mouth when you label or talk about them. Experiment with different positions that allow you and your toddler to see each other’s faces when playing or reading or singing together.  

This one SIMPLE change can have a profound impact on your toddler’s language development. Why does getting face-to-face matter?

  • Builds connection - it lets your little one know you are paying attention to them, which makes them feel valued and understood.
  • Encourages engagement - it encourages eye contact and active participation. Your child will be better able to observe and imitate your facial expressions, gestures, and the words you are modeling.  
  • Enhances language development  - it’s easier to establish joint attention (more on that below) when you are on your child’s level physically. It will be much easier for your toddler to associate words with objects, actions, and emotions when they have visual reinforcement.  
Mother sitting and talking with toddler, while looking at a stuffed aniimal.

Joint Attention 

Another part of connecting with your child is looking for joint attention, which is when you and your child are both sharing attention on one thing at the same time. Joint attention includes your child getting your attention (by pointing, grunting, staring at something, pulling you by the hand over to an object) and showing you what they’re interested in as well as their ability to shift their attention to see what you’re showing interest in. 

Some of the best times to encourage talking and communicating are when you have joint attention. Try to model the words you want your toddler to use as often as possible during these times. Don’t be afraid to model words A LOT! You are exposing your little one to language every time you repeat words, even if they don’t imitate you right away.

Use Gestures

For toddlers who aren’t using words yet, gestures are a great way to encourage communication. Toddlers will often mimic gestures before they will mimic sounds because they have an easier time accessing their gross motor skills before they can talk, which is a fine motor skill. For instance, a toddler might push away a food item before they learn the words for “stop” or “no.”

An easy strategy to incorporate into your everyday routine is adding more gestures into your interactions with your child and modeling words to go with the gestures. Like, when you drop something, you could put your hands on your cheeks, open your eyes wide, make a silly facial expression, and say, “Uh oh!” Try to do the same thing every time for consistency.

Once your toddler starts mimicking the gesture, you can drop something, make the gesture, but don’t say the words. Wait several seconds to give your toddler a chance to say the words themselves. If they don’t, that’s OK! You can say the words and move on. There’s always next time!

Receptive Language

Receptive language is the words your child understands. Even if they’re not talking yet, you can gauge their receptive language by seeing their reactions to certain words. Like, when you say “milk,” they may get excited and pull on your shirt or look at their cup or go toward the kitchen. 

How can you increase your toddler’s receptive language skills? As you go through your daily routine, try to name items, people, and activities in your environment. For instance, instead of saying, “Do you want a snack?” you can ask, “Do you want an apple?” By labeling things specifically, and modeling words often, you are helping your child understand the meaning of those words.

Be Flexible and Follow Your Toddler’s Lead

No matter what strategies you use to help your toddler grow in their communication skills, one of the best things you can do is be flexible. When you encourage your little one’s ideas or follow their lead and play the way that interests them, they are much more likely to engage with you. It’s ok to celebrate all of their attempts at communication, even if the words aren’t perfectly pronounced. Providing positive reinforcement helps build their confidence.

Ready For More Tips?

I hope you found the above information helpful and got some ideas for things you can start incorporating into your daily routine right away. If you’re interested in learning my proven method to help your toddler say more words, sign up for my FREE Raising Little Talkers course. It’s already helped thousands of parents just like you! 

I’m rooting for you!

~ Melissa

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