Ten Best Ways To Encourage Toddlers To Talk

First, let’s clarify something that will hopefully bring relief: Encouraging our children to talk isn’t about chattering incessantly to them in order to expose them to as many words as possible. Honestly, can you think of anything more off-putting than someone blabbering for the sake of blabbering?  Even our adoring babies, the captive audiences they are, will tune out (because they’re unable to throw something or ask us to stop).

While it’s true that children need to hear an abundance of words to develop healthy skills, encouraging language is about the quality and quantity of the words we speak. The great news is that both come naturally when we perceive babies as whole people — able communicators ready to be informed about the happenings in their lives, and in turn share their thoughts and feelings. Comprehend this simple truth, interact, engage, and converse naturally, and we’ve got the language lessons nailed.

Here are some specifics…

1. Two-way communication from the beginning.

From the time our babies are born, they need to know that we not only tell them what’s happening (“I’m going to pick you up now”), but also that we pay attention to their non-verbal signals and listen to their sounds and cries. If we’re unsure, we wait before reacting. We ask, give the child time to take our question in, and listen again. We make every attempt to understand what our babies might be communicating. We won’t always be successful in the beginning, but we’ll improve with each try. Meanwhile our children hear our profoundly important message: “We want you to tell us what you need and feel.  We believe you are capable of communicating with us, and we will do our best to understand you.”

This is vital. Only we can open this door and wholeheartedly welcome our baby’s communication.

2. Use your authentic voice and first person.

Many believe in using mother-ese, so I realize this is controversial, but here’s what I’ve found… Talking to our babies in our regular, authentic voice (but a little slower) reminds us that we are talking to a whole person.  It’s easier and not as likely to induce headaches (which I know, because I talk to my dog in mother-ese). It models for babies the natural tone and language we want them to adopt.  The more they hear language spoken properly, the sooner they will learn and try speaking it.

Children sense inauthenticity a mile away. The children I know who aren’t used to being talked to in mother-ese feel disrespected and talked down to when adults speak to them that way.

Using first person rather than “Mommy loves Johnny” is a minor detail, but it is another way to remind ourselves to talk person-to-person with our baby.  Why speak differently to a baby or toddler who is immersed in the process of learning our language than we would to an older child or adult? This makes no sense to me.  Never doubt for a moment that babies know who Mommy, Daddy and Johnny are.  They don’t need the constant reminders. Also, children understand and use pronouns earlier when they are modeled.

3. Talk about real, meaningful things.

In other words, instead of teaching words, use them.  Holding up a ball, pointing to it and saying “ball” is far less effective teaching (besides being a gargantuan bore, as far as I’m concerned) than commenting in context on a relevant (and, therefore, meaningful) event. “You moved all the way to that red ball and touched it and then it rolled further away.”

Babies learn best , as we all do, when they care, and in this example the baby would probably care about his involvement with the words ‘moved’, ‘red ball’, ‘touched’, ‘rolled’ and ‘away’.  That’s six words right there, but who’s counting? (Oh, the experts…that’s right.)

Note: I’m not suggesting constant narration while babies play. The best way to gauge whether or not to comment while our child is engaged in an activity is to wait for him or her to communicate an interest in our response, which young children usually do by looking at us.  (For a brief video demonstration of this, please see “Teaching Babies Language And Much, Much More While They Play“)

4. Read books and tell stories responsively

Reading books responsively means ditching any agenda and following our child’s interest. Let the baby or toddler stay on one page for five minutes if she wants to and talk to her about everything you see there. Let her skip pages, look at the book upside down, and not finish the story (or even look at the book at all) if that’s what she chooses.  Trust your child’s readiness, allow reading to be child-led, and we encourage a love of books. And children who love books love and use language.

If you’re the creative type (which I’m usually not at the end of the day), tell stories. I’ll never forget the stories my dad told about Mary and her dog Zip.  Well, actually I don’t remember anything about them except that I thoroughly enjoyed that attention from my dad.

5. Slow down

I forget this all the time. We should probably put “Slow Down” signs all over the house when our children are small. There are so many good reasons to slow down around children, especially in regard to language.  When we slow down, children can listen and understand.

6. Relax and be patient

Parent worries are usually felt by young children and don’t create the ideal climate for taking big developmental strides forward.  Talking takes courage.  Relax, be patient and trust your child’s inborn timetable. Many patient parents I know have experienced their child’s verbal skills emerge overnight – a language “explosion”.

If your child seems delayed in his or her ability to comprehend language, or seems atypical in several areas of development, get an assessment.

7. Don’t test

What children need most of all to be able to start talking (or do just about anything else) is our trust.  When we test, we aren’t trusting or respecting.  Magda Gerber’s rule of thumb was, “Don’t ask children a question you know the answer to.” (In other words, “Where is your nose?”)

As excited as we get about sharing the adorable way our toddler pronounces his latest words (“Say ‘turtle’ for Grandma, Johnny!”), performance pressure makes toddlers more likely to clam up.

8.  Babbling is talking

When babies or toddlers seem to be talking gibberish, they are usually saying words, so ignoring them or babbling back isn’t as respectful or encouraging as saying, “You’re telling me something. Are you telling me about the cat that just walked by?” Or, “You’ve got a lot to say today. “

Beware of these common language discouragers

9. Corrections

When children are trying out language, they are inclined to get colors, animals, and other things “wrong”, and adults are inclined to correct these mistakes. Don’t.  It’s unnecessary and discouraging.  With our patience and modeling, toddlers will discern the difference between dogs and bears, red and orange, etc., soon enough.

In Learning All The Time, John Holt explains: “When children first learn to talk, they will often use the name of one object to refer to a whole class of similar objects.” In other words, when a toddler refers to every animal as a “dog”, she isn’t indicating that she doesn’t know the difference.

“If a distinguished person from a foreign country were visiting you, you would not correct every mistake he made in English, however much he might want to learn the language, because it would be rude. We do not think of rudeness or courtesy as being applicable to our dealings with very little children. But they are.” –John Holt

10.  Invalidating thoughts and feelings

Let’s say your toddler asks (in her unique way) to change her diaper, but you check and she isn’t wet. Or maybe your boy says “lellon”, and you know he loves melon, but he just ate.  Rather than reflexively responding “you don’t need your diaper changed” or “you can’t be hungry, you just ate”, accept and acknowledge the communication without the slightest bit of judgment.  “Oh, are you saying you want to change your diaper?” (Wait for a response.) “Yes? Well, I can certainly understand wanting to do that again. It’s fun to spend that time together. But you are dry and so we won’t be changing you right now. Maybe in a few minutes.”

“Are you thinking about melon?” (Wait for a response.) “Are you hungry for melon?  (Wait.) Oh, you’re not hungry? Are you enjoying saying “melon”?  That’s a fun word to say, isn’t it?”

When we listen to and respect these early attempts at communication, children feel encouraged to keep talking. They’ll sense that their most random thoughts, feelings and ideas are welcome to our ears.  And chances are excellent we’ll be their favorite confidant for many years to come.

(Note: if you have concerns about your child’s language development, the American Academy of Pediatrics offers helpful guidelines HERE)

I share more about respectful care and natural development in my book:

Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting (now available in Spanish!)

(Photo by Diego Dalmaso on Flickr)


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. This was such an encouraging read. My 24 month old is so smart. She says some words and I’m sure she says more than I think.. that I just don’t understand some of what she says. My pediatrician says I need to encourage talking more because she doesn’t use 2 word sentences yet. I feel like a terrible mother for not working with her very much until now. I know she knows these things (like nose, various colors, ect..) but she won’t say them. She did this with walking too. We knew she could do it for a month before she finally decided to do it. It’s like she knows that once she starts it there will be the expectation of keeping it up, so she keeps it all locked up in her mind. Is this normal? What can I do to help her? I also have a 2 month old, so could this partially be a regression?

    Thanks so much again

    1. Hi Kristin! “I know she knows these things (like nose, various colors, ect..) but she won’t say them.” Does this mean you ask her to say those words? That kind of subtle quizzing can create pressure, especially for brighter, more sensitive children. New siblings can also create pressure and a stronger need to resist the parents… which is all the more reason that asking her to say the names of things, etc., can actually make her more hesitant to speak. I wouldn’t push her at all, but when she does verbalize, I would let her know you are trying your very best to understand what she’s saying. That will encourage her. I have the feeling she has a lot to say!

      1. my grandson is 18 very very smart month old. his parents have taken him to a specialist because he will not say a word and now he is marked as delay; how awful;

        1. oh by the way he is communicating with us in his own way.

          1. Hi Lena, my son is the same he is 22 months old and communicates in his own way through noises. He is physically advanced and so strong and fit. He can understand anything we tell him and follows instructions so well and clearly as well as giving them back to us by showing us. He used to say so words like “mum, dad, nan, botbot, thankyou, Ta, up, hey, hello, broom broom” but now he refuses to say anything unless it’s dad. He hasn’t said anything since just after he was 1. I read to him every night. We play we laugh we encourage talking about every little thing we are doing. But he us fallen into a stage of talking his own language. Can only stay positive. It is hard and frustrating but we will get there.

            1. Our son stopped speaking for a while, too! Around 10 months he started saying a handful of words in addition to Mama and Dada, and by 13ish months he stopped, retaining only Mama and Dada. At his 15 month appointment, our pediatrician (a new one after relocation) completely freaked me out and basically said he was delayed and that language doesn’t develop with stops and starts. I knew our son had some level of receptive language and was working on plenty of other skills, so I (a) found a new pediatrician, and (b) gave it time. He is almost 17 months now and all of the words have come back, and then some. He frequently says, uh oh, oh no, all done, oh wow, num num/yum yum, and some of his own words where we know what they mean. I am convinced that he spent the time between 13-16 months working on physical milestones, and when he felt confident in his walking/climbing/running, he started speaking again.

          2. Lena – I think his parents are doing the best they can and trying to get him early help if needed. The child doesn’t know the label, only adults, while upsetting for you it actually won’t hinder his development. Try not to focus on the label, he’ll get there and all three can use your support

          3. Padmalita says:

            My 27 months old girl hasn’t started talking yet.I don’t know how to make her talk.She is active and playful and communicate with me in her own way but won’t speak.

        2. Lena, It is disheartening when our little ones get “labeled” as delayed. We should be using people friendly term such as a child who has a delay in ________. I am a developmental specialist who works with families of children with a number of challenges, some are very bright children who have delays in only one area. Early intervention through fun games and activities in the child’s natural environment often get these kiddos meeting developmental milestones quickly and they will are eventually dismissed from early intervention services. Research has shown that children who skip or are seriously delayed in acquiring milestones (and have no intervention to bridge the gaps in development) develop other more serious and long lasting difficulties. Let me encourage you and your grandson’s parents to engage in programs that support how bright he is, using his strong areas to bring those which are weaker up.

        3. Lena, have you had his hearing tested? My son had sterile fluid in his ears. Never an ear infection, but he couldn’t hear. Once we had tubes put in, he was a new boy. Good luck.

          1. Thank you for this! I needed this, I’ve been low-key worrying about my 26 month old daughter. She comprehends exceptionally well, extremely smart, can figure out how things work very quickly. She babbles A LOT, she used to talk with more real words than she does now. She says “I do it” or “I want” instead of me or her name.

            I think she can talk but just doesn’t. However, I am guilty of testing her and putting her on the spot. She surprises me some days by bringing me something and saying what it’s called. For example, she brought me her snack cup and said “goldfish.” Others I can’t get anything comprehensive out if her.

        4. I enjoyed reading this article..
          Iam a caregiver for an active 20mth old boy with 2 older syblings…

      2. Thanks for the page. I have 27 months old daughter and she understand everything and react for every thing we say or asked her. She is just brilliant but didn’t talk much. Only few words and babbling. Please suggest.

        1. Kiran Puri says:

          Hi there, my son is 2 years 4 months and not talking, if he wants something he cries scream and point the finger. He just says dad at the moment and talks in his own language (babble) only. I am trying my best to encourage him. He understands what I am saying but doesn’t listen sometimes. He is very active in playing and other stuff but doesn’t talk. I really need help now if you can suggest please? Thank you

    2. humaira agha says:

      Hi Kristin. I felt like I was reading about myself. My son is 2.11 and he’s only saying some words. Gibberish too. I think too much tv did this. Doctor advised us to involve him in everything that we do.

    3. This sounds like my oldest. She was the child where you could see her thinking and processing everything. However when it came to doing she wouldn’t even try. She is 7 now and is still the same way. She is an extreme perfectionist and has been since birth and so refuses to try things until she is confident she can do it( I know that’s not how it works but that’s how her brain works). We had her tested for giftedness in kindergarten and unsurprisingly her results came back very highly gifted in all areas. The perfectionism and intense emotional responses are all part of being gifted and how her brain works. All this being said if you little is like mine don’t worry. When mine decides she is ready to do something new she goes all in and is extremely proficient in a very short time frame, even surpassing other nurotypical kids. You got this. Just talk to and encourage and I’m sure your daughter will pick it all up in no time 🙂

    4. As an educator with a learning disabled child, I can tell you that this is not normal and is a problem. Intervention needs to be sought very quickly so that your child can get the right help.

  2. Thank you so much for this great post.
    I was wondering, maybe you can help me figure this out. By nature i am not a outspoken person. I reader write, illustrate on the computer or take photohgraphs. Yes, i do talk, but not that much.
    I have a 1 year old boy and i really try to talk to him about the things i see or he sees. What he is doing or i am, but i find it really hard and sometimes (sorry to say) quite tiering. Cause i am not used to this.

    How can i change this? I dont want my baby to be like me.

    on a side note: He jibber jabbers a lot. Sometimes says momma or dadda. But alot of jibber jabber.

    thank you

    1. Oops, sorry for the spelling mistakes. I am not a native english speaker.

      1. Hi Xiomara! Remember that jibber jabber is language… So, I would be responsive and curious as to what he is saying. Let him know you want him to tell you his thoughts. It is so much easier to care for a child who can tell you what he wants and needs, right? Perhaps that could be your motivation.

        Yes, this may require a bit more talking than you are entirely comfortable with, but you need only talk when you have something to say or ask that is meaningful and authentic. You never need to talk for the sake of talking.

  3. this acticle was really awesome .. really gave me some ideas to get my three year old and my two year old sons to start talking mmore thanks a bunch . I guess sincei had them so close in age that they are fighting for attention these days and its so hard to just separate them so I can do that .

  4. Unfortunately, I found a few flaws in this article, or rather misconceptions.

    As a speech therapist for children, I’ve spent many years researching and working with children’s speech development. Many parents fear way too much about how they speak to their children and if they “understand”.

    3, 7, and 9 are more opinionated then a suggestion. We encourage parents to start simple then gain more complex terms as the child begins to understand. The “snowball” effect. Start with “ball” then go to “red ball” then “throw red ball” then “throw the red ball please.” etc. It’s always good to, not exactly “test” but “practice” with your children’s new found words. Make them a game and congratulate them. As a toddler gets older, you should begin to correct the words they know well, because if not, then they’ll assume that the words you’ve been allowing them to say is the correct words and will be reluctant to change. (not only that, but it will help you avoid future stresses with schools).

    I appreciate your article and the fact that you are trying to help parents. Just be sure to not mix opinions with facts, since parents already have enough to stress over.

    1. You are welcome to share your opinions and approach. Mine are also based on many years of research, and this research has clearly demonstrated that children absorb language naturally… They don’t need their parents to provide lessons or behave robotically. Children are aware we don’t speak that way. They’ve listened to us from day one.

      Natural learning is excellent news for parents, because it is certainly less stressful than worrying about “today’s speech lesson”. All that’s needed is an abundance of respectful human communication, ideally from birth, which is also the best way to build a relationship with our children…and the secret to easier, more enjoyable parenting! So it covers many types of learning at once.

      1. If you’re going to attack someone for expressing their opinion, it’s a little weird to start out welcoming said opinion.

        You both have good ideas, just different ways of reaching the same goal.

        I think it’s less about being a robotic monotone speech corrector and more about helping your child understand the difference in what you and they are saying over time. It’s a good idea.

      2. Hi Janet,

        Your approach seems antagonistic toward the concept of pedagogy.

        Do you have links to any publicly available data that support your position?

        Unlike everyone else in this discussion, I’m not a trained speech pathologist; however, teaching a toddler to speak solely by immersion seems counter-intuitive on too many levels. Is such an approach also applicable to other subjects, like mathematics?

    2. Hi! I am a speech pathologist as well. I work primarily with the 0-5 population but with some older ages as well, and I have two biological kids under the age of 5. I have actually changed my philosophy and approach since learning of RIE and reading Janet’s articles, and I have to say that there is value to her approach just as there is value to what we were taught to do as SLPs.

      Number 3 on her list: I do believe in using authentic language with children versus the more structured “ball,” “red ball” example. I just make sure to speak slowly and repeat the target word. So I will say “A ball. You like that ball. You are rolling the ball. Oh, the ball rolled away.” I managed to say the target word several times in a natural, communicative way. We can use shorter sentences with younger kids, and lengthen them with older kids, but I still believe we need to keep our sentences meaningful and communicative.

      Number 7: Don’t test. This is a hard one because in our field we are constantly doing this. However, I do cringe now when having to do this for an evaluation. It is inauthentic, and puts kids on the spot. I noticed with my oldest child, he didn’t like to “perform” in this way at all, and this was before I had learned of RIE. I started to back off and, lo and behold, he is still a very verbal 3 year old.

      Number 9: I have seen many children who are language delayed or have articulation delays who begin talk less or become very frustrated when they are constantly corrected so I have actually not been advising parents to correct their children. Instead of overtly correcting, recasting is what I prefer, and if it is done consistently, still yields results. So if a child says “I see a tat” instead of “cat” I would say, “Yes, a cat. I see the cat too. It’s a brown cat.” The child hears the correct pronunciation several times after their incorrect pronunciation using this approach, but isn’t shamed by the overt correction.

      Of course, if a child is in therapy, the session may not always follow this last rule. If the child is older, and practicing a speech sound, I will say things like “I am here to help you say the S sound. Sometimes your tongue peeks out, which a lot of kids do.” And I would correct their pronunciation in the very artificial setting of naming pictures. But if the child was telling me a story, and I stopped to correct their S, that to me is no longer acceptable.

      1. Melissa Senger says:

        My son is almost 2 (2 days!) and he LOVES when I ask him “Where’s your nose?!” and “Show me where your toes are!” or “Wiggle your fingers!” He giggles and just loves it. He’s also started to say “Hair” and “Toe” as a result. It was kind of disheartening to see “Don’t ask a child a question they know the answer to.” When that has been working in teaching my son some new words and is something he enjoys.
        He doesn’t have many two word sentences yet, though once in a while he’ll say something like, “Yes it is.” And SHOCK us! But he might not say that again. It’s very in the moment. Tonight I asked him “Did you have mac and cheese for dinner?” And he said Yes. Hubby said “No, he had spaghetti.” I told kiddo, “Hey! You said you had mac and cheese but you had spaghetti! Those aren’t the same.” And he goes “Yes it is!” I almost fell off the bed in shock.
        Anyway, other than that, good advice. Though I keep saying “Mommy loves you” out of habit and throw in some “I love you’s” sometimes when I catch myself 😉

    3. Olga Barrett says:

      May I just ask, with all due respect, how may the “snowball” method be considered as meaningfull language? Even teaching a foreign language to kids and adults is more effective when we present words in context or sentence that makes sence and shows how words string together rather than having lists of disconnected words. (I am an ESL teacher).

  5. “8. Babbling is talking

    When babies or toddlers seem to be talking gibberish, they are usually saying words, so ignoring them or babbling back isn’t as respectful or encouraging as saying, “You’re telling me something. Are you telling me about the cat that just walked by?” Or, “You’ve got a lot to say today. “”

    I can’t quite remember the source but I clearly remember reading that it’s good to mimic the sounds (babbling or baby talk) sometimes, in order to encourage communication before they are able to form their first words. Of course, it wasn’t suggested that’s all you should do, you should also speak normally etc… comments on this?

    1. The study showed that conversing with babies was far more important and effective than just saying words or talking at them. So, if that means babbling back, that’s better than nothing. 🙂 But I’m with John Holt in his analogy… imagining children are foreigners attempting to speak our language. Would you imitate the foreigner or attempt to understand and converse?

    2. Carl, I am a pediatric speech therapist. I like to babble back and forth with babies when they clearly are just experimenting with sound. For example, blowing raspberries, coughing, laughing, roaring, clicking their tongue. You can make it a fun reciprocal game, where you imitate them and they imitate you. You can throw in some speech sounds as well in the context of this type of game. If the child is trying to communicate it is usually more apparent (if you are closely observing the child). They may gesture, use eye contact, and the look on their face is showing intentional communication versus playing with sound. You’d know it when you are seeing it. In that case, I would acknowledge as Janet recommends.

      1. Thank you for this! My 11mo daughter has sounds that she just loves to make and hear! She’s not trying to communicate, she just wants to play with sound. It’s reassuring to hear that my gut was correct and playing her game with her is the right approach. There are definitely other babbles that I can tell she’s trying to communicate and for those I use language back. But sounds are very much also a game for her right now that she loves to play at “controlling” her parents 🙂

  6. Sorry for the multiple replies but, “When children are trying out language, they are inclined to get colors, animals, and other things “wrong”, and adults are inclined to correct these mistakes. Don’t.”

    This strikes me as wrong, recasting is an important part of learning a language, you said “don’t ” but I’m sure what you meant was “don’t correct EVERY mistake.” correct? Recasting to correct an accent (in the case of a bi-lingual family where one parent may have said a word in their second language wrong and passed it on) can be very beneficial.

    1. Hi again Carl! I think the key here is HOW a child is corrected. I recommend recasting–so if a child says “I want the duck” (but they mean chicken) you don’t need to say “No, that’s a chicken” but instead you can say “Here’s the chicken. You are putting the chicken in the barn. Is the chicken sleeping?” They hear the correct word contrasted with their error, and they hear it several times. If we overtly corrected everything a child did while learning to talk, they would be quite frustrated, and in my experience when parents do correct a child often, some actually begin to talk less and show fear and frustration around talking.

  7. I am a nanny of too many years to count, not a speech therapist like Sawyer, but I agree on the same numbers referenced.

    But I think it’s a mix between what you two are saying. If I touch a ball to pass to a toddler, I’ll say, “I’ve got the ball. Do you want the ball? And depending one where they are verbally i either will stop with a “yes” or go on with “can you say ball?” No matter what,I’m going to pass them the ball, but I am going to encourage them speaking.

    Same with the nose one. I think you need to know the child. Some will absolutely clam up when you try to show off their skills, some won’t. If they’re willing, why not take it as an opportunity to practice enunciating (sp?) words?

    As for #9 I think those are two different scenarios presented by Holt. If we are in charge of someone’s learning, we have every right to correct them. Of course we wouldn’t say, “You’re wrong” but we could show through example (as you’ve mentioned before) by referencing the same thing. If you are meeting someone new who has not specifically asked you for help, then yes, you butt out and do not correct because that would be rude.

    Anyways, I really do love this article as it is extremely helpful, and solidifies I’ve been doing it right 😉

  8. Patricia Carrega says:

    Hi im looking for answers my boy is 27 months old I can see he os very clever he does everything I ask like go get ur slippers in the coubord fetch the red ball get ur pj’s he points ppl out on fotos that he knows but speak words nothing he points to things that he wants. He say mama, ball, bye, soon, small things like that but nothing els what can I do to help him talk a bit?

  9. Everyone in the house are forcing me to teach my son how to speak. I always tell them that he knows it. He speaks what he wants and when he likes. I just don’t want to force him, coz he still can’t understand us. They have fear that my son will not talk. But i told them that he Talks gibberish and proper sometimes, distinguishing what’s in front of him. So i guess patience is all we have mom’s. And guidance. Well i just keep on researching on what’s best for my baby. Though its hard especially for a first time mom like me. Thanks for this good information.

    1. They’ve all forgotten what it’s like to learn something new… Or don’t see him as a person yet. Hang in there! What you do will matter most.

  10. Hi dear Janet, have you seen this and/or any similar articles?


    My particular dilemma lays on discerning if early diagnosis is beneficial for babies since it allows immediate therapies and interventions when their neuro-plasticity is at its best, or… if this trend is over-diagnosing children whom, given the right time, would had developed as completely healthy children. I am aware I am simplifying in “white and black” here and there is a wide gray spectrum in between. But in the end, I believe our society might be tending to simplify healthy early development quite easily.

    I´d love to hear your voice on this issue.

    Much love, as always,

  11. My 2 1/2 year old is not speaking, he understands many things and indicates that he understands by pointing and making sounds hardly any words. However, sometimes he will say Bye, or his brothers name I am worried because I think he should be saying more words by now. What can my husband and I do to help?

    1. Hi Belinda, if I may ask how old is your little one now & how he or she is going with talking as my little is just over 3 & is same as your baby when 2 &1/2 Thank you

  12. I was thrilled to have read this article, as it has helped me immensely. “Experts” seem to look for reasons to classify and label children and perceived speech delay in an otherwise normal child will get you a “spectrum” diagnosis and a rush to therapy. You have my gratitude for such a thoughtful approach and for introducing me to a new way of looking at parenting that does not include jumping on pathology bandwagons!

  13. My daughter is 28 months! She knows colors alphabates she sings , counts and understands almost everything I say except if it’s in a question form.. Like if I ask her what’s your name she doesn’t answer.. She knows her name cause she points at her self in pictures and mirrors and says it!
    Furthermore, she doesn’t answer people when they call her unless it’s like in a scentence “come here I will show this story” or her name then “I have some chocolate for you”
    . Also she never answers with yes! She started just few weeks ago answering with “no” but not all the time! I worry about her so much and I hate myself comparing her to other kids her age who actually communicate and have a back and forth conversation cause she is not there yet.. at 18 months she was considered delayed cuz she had only three to four words and they told me that’s delayed and she didn’t point and stuff like that.. But now she does everything and learns words quick but never actually “communicate” or answer yes or no when someone asks simple questions.. Even when I ask her “is this yours?” Or “do you want milk” she answers “mine!” And “milk” and mimics the word I say in the question or sometimes she just ignores me!

    Another thing is sometimes she brings up random words and keeps repeating them over and over.. And I reply like u said in the post about the melon!

    I don’t want to be like those mothers who expects too much from their children! I just want to feel like I’m not doing her wrong or maybe she needs professional help and I’m ignoring it! this stresses me so much! I envy those mothers who r like , oh they’ll talk when they’re ready! I feel they believe in their children and I’m just here underestimating mine!!

    Thank u so much for the encouraging post! I would like to hear ur feed back 🙂

    1. Rashelle L says:

      I’m definitely no expert here, but have you heard of hyperlexia? It’s not a standalone diagnosis, and its usually considered to stem from autism. My son has hyperlexia 3 and is not autistic. Some of the things you say about your daughter are very familiar. Maybe just research it? You know your daughter best and will be able to answer. There’s not a lot of information, but we have groups on social media. Best of luck to you!!!

    2. My son is also 28 months old and the same. I want to know about your daughter. Any development?

  14. Thank you for this! My daughter is almost 3 now and quite chatty, but I agonized when she was younger over the “talk to your child ALL the time” advice I was given when she was an infant. I’m not personally “chatty” by nature and am not given to just talking for talking’s sake, so I felt guilty in the times I was sitting quietly with my baby. Your emphasis on the the specific and authentic kinds of talk that are helpful will be a balm to more introverted moms like me!

  15. Catrióna says:

    I absolutely LOVED reading this. I am one of those parents who doesn’t believe in pushing my daughter into things before she is ready. I couldn’t agree more that mother-ese is disrespectful. Children are way more intelligent than most people give them credit for. I have always heard and believe that children are born geniuses, adults make them slow. Quizzing children where their nose is makes them sound more like performing monkeys. I decided to stand in front of a mirror and start saying “there’s my nose…mouth…ears” I felt like a buffoon. That’s what we do to our children and usually for our own entertainment to make us feel like we are doing everything we are supposed to if they get it right. Why can’t they learn with immersion just as someone would learn a foreign language and culture?

    We put too much pressure on our children to meet those ridiculous milestones and just that much more pressure on ourselves. Thus, we make ourselves feel like failures as parents because our child isn’t on the “average” chart. If a parent notices something that may need extra attention then by all means, but don’t go looking for and creating things just because your child learns and develops at a different rate. Your children are little geniuses.

    Side note: in my experience most of the “experts” I have had the pleasure and sometimes displeasure of working with usually believe that their way is the only way. There never will be one sure-fire way that works for all children. If that was the case then it wouldn’t be called “practicing” medicine (psychological or otherwise).

  16. Hi, my baby is 1.7 years old, he can say few words like mam nana mah and also he is very clever, he knows playing with mobile and computer, he know if we tell him to take the mobile to plug in to the charger. but still he should talk at least 20 words that he can’t, what should I do to make him to talk more or to make sure he has no any autism.

    Thank you

  17. Question: you shouldn’t imitate a child when he/she babbles-(which you would do to encourage self-confidence and reinforcement in babies trying out language/talking first time) as the logic presented says here that you wouldn’t do that to wrongly encourage an adult learning foreign language BUT do not correct toddles misusing words, as presented that in this case in order to help their self confidence– but you wouldn’t leave an adult uncorrected as that would be a disservice…? Confusing logic.

    1. Most of words a foreign speaker used in a sentence would not need to be corrected. If you understood the gist, you wouldn’t nit pick every word, would you? However, if there was confusion over an integral word, you might say, “Oh, I think you may have meant “cows” when you said “chickens.” Did you?” Young children are, unfortunately, seldom corrected in such a polite manner, but that would be the most respectful, encouraging way to do it. Instead, they are generally told, “No, cows. Cowwws.” It can be unnecessarily discouraging.

      If a toddler is babbling, I would try to understand the words and ask questions (“Are you saying ‘cows’?”), rather than aping the babbles back to the toddler. Babbles aren’t just babbles, but words the child is attempting to say.

      1. Heather Burch says:

        I’d also wonder about a more gentle/curious correction like “Oh? I’d call that one a bear,” when a child points at a “dog” in a book or out a window. It keeps the tone conversational, and doesn’t let the “mistake” go uncorrected, but it also provides an example of the more precise vocabulary. (I’d also probably make a mental note of the gap and get some bear books to read from the library, let it direct future learning.)

        Would that count as a negative correction, or is it natural enough to be respectful?

  18. Thanks for this article. I will definitely start working with my son daily

  19. my child s 2.2years.and avnt starts talking yet.and my husband s worried. BT she understand everything,b it word,gesture,and action. and d only word she says are:alhaja,quadri,mummy and water.data all.plz any solution cuz am worried.

    1. Hi Aramide

      Reading through your reply and the names you mentioned, I take it you are a Nigerian. If you are Yoruba (could be Igbo, Hausa or any other native Nigerian language) please avoid speaking two languages at home, this can confuse your child. You should speak one language, use the right pronunciation and avoid speaking too fast. He/she would pick up your native language over time. All the best.

      1. Heather Burch says:

        I disagree with this comment- bilingual children are rarely “confused”. This article has some good information about raising bilingual children: http://www.hanen.org/Helpful-Info/Articles/Bilingualism-in-Young-Children–Separating-Fact-fr.aspx

        Aramide, I’d continue encouraging your child to speak, but also check with your doctor to ensure there’s not a deficit (for example, hearing problems) that might be preventing your child from saying more words. Keep talking with your child 🙂

  20. In your opening paragraph you made reference to the recommendation by some experts that a child should hear 30,000 words, but I think that should actually be 30 million.

    1. I’m a bit of a chatterbox, always have been. I have adult ADHD and am also bipolar. I talk all day every day, whether anyone is present or not. (Yes, I talk to myself ) my 4 year old has developed a very rare advanced quality vocabulary it’s sometimes scary 🙂 my 2 year old just listens, doesn’t participate in conversation, period. So, I believe, whether they hear any recommended amount of words by a certain age or not, it all depends on the child. Their nature and characteristics really determine their individuality and who they are as their own little person.

  21. Hi Janet,

    Could you share with me when do speak to our child when he is playing? You mentioned above that he will look at us, but my baby is 10months now and he hardly looks at me while he is engaged in his play. I’m not sure when I should talk to him and engage him while he plays. Thanks!

  22. My 26 month old (baby of 5 siblings ) chooses NOT to talk. I hear him on the monitor saying real actual words but shuts down when he’s not alone. Idk If I should worry about it. I think he’s a perfectionist of sorts and hesitates in the speech department until he’s sure of himself. On the monitor it almost seems as if he’s practicing the words until he says it correctly, he’s then laughs n claps for himself. But still shuts down as their presence is known.

  23. Point 2 articulates my dislike of Elmo and Cookie Monster. Why me hearing inappropriate grammar on me children’s education show?

  24. Hi Janet,
    Unless I’ve missed it, I haven’t read anyone reference music and a way to encourage speech. As an early-childhood music educator and mom to a 4 yr old girl adopted from China at 14 months, I can tell you that music is the “way in” for many children who seem to be delayed! I have many friends who are speech therapists and they always recommend a high quality music class for the children they are treating. The building blocks of music are many of the same building blocks of language (different vocal sounds of vowels and consonants, phrasing, listening, rhythm, etc.) The magic is that music can cross the emotional barriers and without even knowing it, children begin to produce sounds and communicate through songs in ways that someone they just haven’t found in non-musical ways. It’s joyful, natural and deep inside each child just waiting to come out 🙂 Playing recorded music for a child is wonderful but actually singing with them is far more powerful. As with language, it must be live & interactive to have any real benefits. From infancy through the early years I have repeatedly seen the results including witnessing my daughter absorbing and speaking English having never heard it for the first 14 months of her life. Music is a powerful tool 😉

  25. Chad Lewis says:

    The entire paragraph related to Corrections was really the most enlightening to me for my 18 Month old boy, Lucas. I found myself naturally trying to correct him constantly, and also utilizing the word “No.” entirely too often. The result was always not what was wanted by either of us, and made things difficult to progress.

    I found the teachings of a course over at Toddlers.com to provide me with quite a bit of extra knowledge for communicating with my 18 month old. Thanks to everyone for the informative words!


  26. Hello!

    I am a speech-language pathologist, so I specialize in children that “talk late,” and as I was reading through the comment section below I became pretty concerned because there is quite a bit of misinformation floating around down there. I was going to reply to the comments, but, quite frankly, I became overwhelmed. SO, I’ll just say this, if you are AT ALL concerned please see a speech-language pathologist (SLP) they are the ONLY professional that can tell whether or not your child will need additional help learning how to talk (this includes doctors and other specialists – they may suspect but NOT diagnose in this area). Quite a bit of development needs to happen before a child becomes a talker. It is impossible to tell if your child will need some extra help without seeing your child or an indepth conversation with the caregiver. Trust your instincts as a mom. If you are worried, get a speech therapy assessment. For young children, the assessments are play based and typically include a conversation with the parents/caregiver of the child. A speech path will most likely look at play skills, your child’s understanding of language, and to how your child is communicating. There can be some pretty serious consequences if your child does have a delay and you don’t get the help you need. If you live in the US, you can find a professional here: http://www.asha.org/profind/

    This website also has some fantastic ideas on how to help your child develop language. You have to sign up but it’s for free (and worth it). Start with the “Fill the Page Theory.”

    1. What are the serious consequences if you don’t mind elaborating?

  27. Very nice website for young parents like me 🙂

  28. It very informative and guiding! To me it is like a timely gift as I am trying to foster my 18 month toddler’s language dev’t, because I know that language devt has a positive effect on cognitive functioning and debt. Thanks! Can I ask one Question, Have you noticed some culture differences in your specification? Do you think that what has been discussed above is universally applicable without some drawbacks specially in relation to culture?

  29. My little one currently calls all bugs bee’s. I love it and it’s great to now know unnecessary to correct her.

    1. Be sure to write that down in a journal somewhere so you don’t forget. 🙂

  30. Worried about a child 22 months. He started saying dada mama on cue at the appropriate time then seemed to stop now says very few words but jabbers. Pediatrician says it’s because he is a second child. He interacts and is very social.

  31. Sam @ Holistic Mumma says:

    I LOVE this Janet! I’m currently very much enjoying ‘talking’ to my 18-month-old as he babbles freely!

  32. My 2 and half year son is still not making any meaningful words just makes noises like aaaa, baba, aaam. Sometimes he makes bit more kinds of voices like de, shhh etc but doesn’t seem to be interested in speaking. Keeps his mouth shut, makes noise with saliva or teeth with mouth shut. What should I do to induce speaking?

    1. Can you tell me a bit more about how you’ve been encouraging him thus far?

      1. I m trying to stop him from keeping the mouth shut. For sometime stopped giving him toys so that he is compelled to talk. Trying to ignore him so that he feels like communicating. Spending more time speaking in front of him so that he can observe the movements of mouth. One thing is surprising that he tend to make more noise when it’s calm around like when we go to bed and put off the lights. I have tried many things that many people suggested.

        1. He is the second child. My daughter is 5 and half years.

        2. That sounds to pushy to me. I don’t recommend using any kind of tactics to try to make this happen. Children this age tend to resist our agendas. So, the key is to trust. The ideas I’ve shared in this post are the way to give organic, gentle encouragement.

  33. My third child started talking when he was 4 years old. I was worried at first. Fortunately, I found a mommy group and found out that there are also several kids in that group who are the same as my son. I’m glad that I found a support group. At present, my child is turning six and is a chatterbox. Thanks for sharing.

  34. hi I m from bangladesh.my baby boy is 3.7 years.but still now he is not talking.he speak s only 5/6 word.like mom,sit,come etc.his other skills ( motor skill, listening power,eye contact) are quite ok.
    genetically my kids cousins talked lately.but my baby is getting too late.pls help me with your precious suggestions. thank you.

    with love
    worried mom

  35. Janet what would you suggest to Jay….
    I am una Le to find a reply. Very interested to hear what you have to say. Thanks

  36. I really enjoy reading and applying your teachings. I’ve recently discovered your work and every time I read another article I feel like I’m discovering something else I do ‘wrong’! I’ve been applying the lessons to my interactions with my 3 year old and seeing great improvements. After reading this I just tried to respond to my 5 month old in my authentic voice, with actual words as you recommended, and it’s SO difficult! I hadn’t even realised how much I’ve trained myself to speak to him in exaggerated motherese noises and words! It’s almost painful to try this new approach. I’ll keep at it though!

    1. Hi Rachel! Please know that this isn’t about “right” and “wrong.” There’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing. This is a perspective that either makes sense to you or doesn’t. The last thing I want is to cause pain or the feeling of being wrong. 🙂 My only interest is to help make this job easier and more intriguing and fulfilling. Engaging with our children as whole people does that. Please be kind to yourself!

  37. What encourages me to communicate with my child person-to-person is respecting my child’s preferences. And that means communicating in motherese. And often speaking in the third person, so that my child can hear his favorite word, “mama,” the sound of which brings him such pleasure. Oh and by the way injecting all kinds of over-the-top emotive gestures and facial expressions into our everyday. Because I respect my child.

    After all, when I consider my adult friendships, in some relationships I dress in my best clothes, sip tea quietly in a cafe, and discuss 300 AD history. In some I scarf down burritos in stained pajamas while telling fart jokes, jumping around, and laughing hysterically. To each relationship its own dynamic, respectful of the individuals and their connection.

    While the top 1% of parents may need a hint of the above advice as a corrective nudge to remember that their children are people and not projects, I feel that implementing these suggestions would be detrimental to average US parents, who are speaking with and focusing on their children less than ever before.

    No need to be a chatterbox? Words per day spoken in even high SES families are at an all time low.

    I live in the autism capital of the US, Silicon Valley, where pairs of assortively mated very high IQ parents are raising children with autism at twice the national rate.

    I live in the land of Montessori, treating kids like little adults, and speaking to them like grownups.

    Take a look at some examples of Early Start Denver Model therapy sessions for toddlers with autism. This is the only autism therapy method ever shown to have lasting benefit even after the conclusion of intervention, and the only therapy proven to reverse/cure autism in some infants.

    Sound effects. A sing song voice. Constant engagement. This is how many children wake up to the importance of relationships.

    Once my husband and I implemented Early Start Denver Model techniques into our family life, our toddler woke up. We were dramatic sing-song clowns, constantly and closely directing and following our toddler’s attention, talking at each and every opportunity.

    Our toddler no longer shows any developmental delays and is now advanced.

    Motherese and its associated behaviors are the bridge our infants and toddlers use to cross from the world of self to the world of others. Once their feet are firmly planted on the other side, at, say, four years old, many of the suggested behaviors in this article may be appropriate. Or with a child who already has always shown an above average interest in connecting with others, as imagine Ms. Lansbury’s children must have, otherwise I can’t begin to imagine how this ideology could have ever occurred to her, when it seems to go against our most basic instincts.

    I’ve loved the “Unruffled” podcast. I appreciate Ms. Lansbury’s respect for children.

    I also have a special place in my heart for positions that run counter to current well accepted dogma. However “use motherese” and “talk as much as possible” are to the cannon of parenting young children what “stop smoking cigarettes” is to the cannon of Western medicine.

    Since I’ve seen otherwise very bright very well educated mothers parrot their parenting gurus’ advice as though it were truth, I think it would do everyone a service for Ms. Lansbury to make disclaimers. Acknowledge the mountains of evidence running contrary to her position and the lack of evidence supporting her position.

    Maybe there is good reason that no studies support not talking to children in motherese. Maybe there are biases at work in the scientific community. I’m willing to hear all that.

    But not a sermon to vulnerable parents as though this were settled fact when it’s an inkling, and one that goes against a mountain of research and history.

    1. “Once their feet are firmly planted on the other side, at, say, four years old, many of the suggested behaviors in this article may be appropriate. Or with a child who already has always shown an above average interest in connecting with others, as imagine Ms. Lansbury’s children must have, otherwise I can’t begin to imagine how this ideology could have ever occurred to her, when it seems to go against our most basic instincts.” YES YES YES MOTHER.

  38. Nhut Tran says:

    Hi Janet. I came across into your informative article and applied for my parenting on using authentic voice, respecting and reading books to foster communication for my toddler.
    My 32 month old girl seems very silent when talking with other family members (living in the different house), our friends and acquaintances. She won’t talk back to them until the next time we see each other, but very little. She talks so often at home with her mom and grandma though. Thank you!

  39. Mother-ese is simply a documented way in which many moms speak to their babies – exaggerating certain syllables and speaking a bit higher and more simply than they would to adults. It’s not purposeful, just natural. Research shows babies tend to pay more attention when spoken to this way. I certainly agree that “baby talk” is not engaging or fun to listen to (for anyone) but trying to turn off the natural adjustments we make can be unhelpful. Maybe distinguishing between the two would be more accurate and helpful for parents.

    1. 1,4 month old, started talking around 1,1 month. He now knows over 50 words, I lost track, for example this morning he said capucino, when he saw us drinking, and said drink and mouth, pointing at our mouth. We previously explained to him what we drink etc. He wants to repeat what we say, no matter the word, sometimes it sounds exactly the same, sometimes it is a close match.
      We talk to him all time from early on, like a conversation, we showed him pictures of objects and repeat the words together, we showed him pictures together with the actual objects, it s a fun game, we correct him, but in a relaxed way, yet he still says mami to machines and daddy to trams, we show him a lot of books with pictures and words, he now already cand identify some letters individually, like x, o, w, he knows a few colours and can count to three, he repeats easy words in a second language, he also can repeat a melody line if I a start the song, because he likes songs very much.
      So I think there is a huge number of things we can try to encourage them to talk, is just a matter of playing and finding what suits them.

    2. Yes!! There’s a reason parents do this intuitively- it’s reinforced by their babies! And it’s respectful to speak to kids in a way that makes understanding easier (it’s hard enough). Motherese also tends to put the relevant noun at the end of the sentence, and repeat it a few times- “Do you see the dog? What a nice dog!” etc. The syntax helps babies, who are trying to do statistical analysis on a massive wave of sounds, figure out what’s important. Using names instead of pronouns also helps.

      Moderation and changing your patterns as your kids grow helps here- it’s great for kids to hear all kinds of language (but a 12 month old – who may only recognize 30-50 words – definitely still wants to hear motherese). And both adult cadences and motherese can be respectful if the speaker is.

      Love your focus on respect!

  40. This is a helpful article!
    I would like to add just one thing, we need to inform parents that children’s language abilities can not form/develop properly if they have a pacifier in their mouth ALL DAY. The pacifier in the mouth hinders the way the tongue, teeth and lips need to move to form words. Also, after having the pacifier in the mouth for years, the shape of the mouth starts to change.
    In my opinion, if a child needs the pacifier to sleep, that’s fine, and I would eventually ween them off the pacifier. Also, we have a rule at our center that if you are off your cot, than your done resting/sleeping, so the pacifier needs to be put away. After establishing this routine the child gets it and starts giving you the pacifier when they wake up. If a child is walking or running around with a pacifier they could fall and do some serious damage to their mouth.

  41. Kaitlyn Hogeweide says:

    So many threads between RIE philosophy and language development, this is really only just the tip of the ice berg! I often spend all days lost in thought about these two topics!

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