The first time that your baby’s babbles sound something close to “mama” or “dada” is a special moment. It feels as though all those sleepless nights and nappy changes were worth it. But did you know that language development actually starts long before then? Even in the womb, your child is getting to know your voice, and enjoys listening to the muffled sounds of the outside world.
Parents are often eager to hear their child’s first words, however milestones can vary hugely. In homes where more than one language is spoken, children sometimes talk a little later than ‘average’; and girls often start talking earlier than boys. According to Dubai-based intervention and therapy centre Sensation Station, a 1-year-old will usually use between two and six single words, while a 2-year-old often has between 200 and 300, and will combine words together.
That’s a huge leap in just one year! It’s important to recognise other forms of communication that they’re picking up along the way – pointing, copying you, and using pretend play like brushing their hair or talking on the phone. All of these adorable actions are non-verbal ways of interacting.
If your child is a little slower off the mark, there’s plenty you can do to encourage them. Here are some simple tips to help toddlers get talking…
1. Turn the devices off
In our digital world, it’s normal to pop the TV on while eating breakfast, listen to music while doing the washing, and call friends while walking to the shop. The more you can limit this while interacting with your toddler, the better. They can’t differentiate between contrasting sounds in order to focus on what you’re saying.
2. Make eye contact
Get on the same level when you’re talking, and make eye contact. This will help with early communication, allowing a baby to direct your attention to an object just by looking at it. As they get older, this will help them see how your mouth moves when pronouncing words, and which objects you’re talking about.
3. Respond to babbles
You may have seen some of the super-cute viral videos of parents having fake conversations with their babies. But it’s not just cute, it’s great for their development. Listen to their babble, wait for a pause, and respond as if they’ve just made perfect sense – “yes I love my porridge too!”
4. Use actions with words
Every day life is an opportunity to learn, and it’s easy… Just say whatever you’re doing. “Up the stairs”, “drink the milk”. Even before 12-months-old, simple actions like waving while saying “bye-bye” will help make the connection.
5. Learn to hold back
Let your child direct the play. This way, they will gravitate towards what they’re interested in, and be more eager to pick up the new word. Talk to them about what they’re doing, and repeat the name of the object.
6. Sing songs
When the babbling starts, those nursery rhymes you’ve been singing will start to make sense. The repetitive words in the songs teach language and build memory. Try incorporating actions and, before long, you may notice that your little one starts to understand simple commands from the such as “clap your hands.”
7. Expand on their words
As your child starts to use single words, you can repeat it back to them and expand. For example, if they say “juice”, you could reply “more juice”, “juice please”, or “drink juice”. Not only will the repetition help, but adding an extra word will start to show them how to make simple sentences.
8. Read lots of books
Books encourage bonding and quiet time with your busy toddler. If they’re distracted easily then lift-the-flap books will help to keep them engaged. Reading the same books regularly will let them associate pictures with words, and as your child grows in confidence, you can pause to see if they can finish the sentence.
9. Ask your child for “help”
When your little one start to understand words and simple instructions, you can ask them to help you with basic tasks. “Find me your shoes”, “go and get your hat” - these simple things will cement use of language in every day life and make your toddler feel a huge sense of achievement.
10. Be patient
Learning to talk is frustrating – imagine trying to tell someone you need a glass of water in a foreign country, where you don’t know the language. Inevitably, this frustration can lead to tantrums. Try to keep calm, look for non-verbal cues, and give plenty of praise along the way.
If your child isn’t babbling by 12-18 months, or saying their first words by 18 months, it’s worth seeking advice from your pediatrician. Dubai-based readers can find one-on-one support and classes with language therapists at www.sensationstation.ae.