Toddler wordsI frequently get calls from parents of children 15-18 months old saying their child isn’t talking and they want an evaluation. I take a little more information on the phone and then ask them to do something for me before we meet–to write down all the meaningful words their child says. It usually works like a charm–parents start writing down the different words their child says fairly regularly like Da/ Daddy or muh/ milk and they realize how much their child is really saying!

It happened again yesterday when I went to evaluate a little boy who is 18 months old. At first it appeared that he mostly used “eh eh” to make his needs known but as he warmed up with me, he said ba/ball, mo/more, bye bye and more. Mom was surprised by all the words he says as she handed me her homework, his list of words. I haven’t scored his tests yet but I am pretty sure he age appropriate and just entering his “vocabulary explosion” that typically occurs in the second half of a child’s second year. By asking parents to listen to their toddler, often they start paying attention to what he is really saying, responding more and therefore encouraging his language development.

I spent some time with this mom giving her tips on how to expand his language and encourage vocabulary.

  • Model single words within context. (Say “milk” as he is gesturing for milk)
  • Pause for his response
  • Don’t ask questions like “What is this?” which is unnatural in how we carry on a conversation. Yesterday, this mom said, “I realize that we never ask him questions that make sense like, ‘Do you want to go?’ but rather questions we don’t use ourselves like, ‘What is this?'”
  • Praise attempts at repeating your model word
  • Never frustrate him, but withhold what he wants for just a few seconds to see if he will attempt to name it and they reward him with the object
  • Talk about what your child is doing, his focus of attention, he will take in more language

Usually, if it is mild delay in language development, adjusting how the parents talk to the child can make a difference in the rate of new words being spoken.

I’ll keep you posted on this one. I gave my assignment to mom and I’m sure she will be diligent in trying these tips out.