You, your partner, and other primary child-givers are going to be teaching your children how to talk. Here are some tips to promote clearer communication and to help you foster increased self-esteem, confidence and understanding through this process.

Learn sign-language and start by 6 months of age. Consistently use these 7 main signs with babies: eat, milk, water, sleep, more, help, and all-done. Each time you say any of these words, make the sign at the same time. Once these basic signs are mastered by your baby, you can add in the signs for the food your child likes. Your babies will likely modify the sign—that’s okay! The point is that they make a motion because they need something and you understand how to fulfill that need.

Pronounce words properly. Speak words the way they sound regularly and use the proper emPHAsis on the right sylLAble. If you talk like a baby to your baby, they will not learn the proper mouth shapes, sounds, and intonation of words. Baby talk is very tempting but it is important to resist! You can get those cute smiles and coos to come out if you simply stare deeply into their eyes and smile as you are talking to them. Also, repeat back much of what they say and do it properly: They say, “wa-wa,” you smile, nod, and say, “water.”

Do not say the word “no” like a question or as instructions. Use this word as a command, not a question. Say it assertively. Let your child know what it is that you would like her to stop doing. Rather than yelling “NO!!!” be specific about what the no is for: add a verb behind it… “no touching, no hitting!”

Take “okay” out of your vocabulary when talking to toddlers. As mentioned above, children understand what to do when they are given clear (and caring) instructions. If you do this but then throw an “okaaayyy” with a high pitched tone at the end of the sentence, you have just communicated to them that they are in charge and can veto your request.

Do not use a child’s name in a punishing tone or as a command. “Rrruuussseellllllll!!!” does not communicate to your child that he needs to back up from the hot oven. Say your child’s name to get his attention and follow that with what you want him to do: “Russell… hot… stop!” Also, it is important to use the appropriate intonation in your voice to match the situation. For example, if he hears a panicked screech from you, it should make him FREEZE whereas a stern command tells him he is doing something wrong but is not in danger.

Give specific commands. “Fingers up!” tells children how to be careful to not get their fingers caught in a drawer, whereas “careful!” does not actually give them any useful instructions.

Use one- to three-word sentences. Children learn to speak by listening to everything you are saying, by watching your body language and by seeing how you interact with others so talk normally when not talking directly to them. However, if you are speaking directly to a toddler, use one to three word sentences. For exampleif you see your children struggling with a toy, look into their eyes and ask, “Mommy help?” As you are speaking, also use the sign for help. Once they start repeating your sentences, you can add another word in.

Look into their eyes when speaking directly to them. They are learning to speak by lip-reading too. Remember to get down to floor level, smile, and nod while talking to toddlers.

Read to your baby/toddler every day. Even if your child only sits for a minute, open a book and look at as many pages as she has the attention for. Have books in a place that your child can reach, and be a model by regularly reading something for yourself around her.

Do not have the TV on in the background. The TV will compete with you for his attention (and vise versa) thereby interfering with focus on what you are saying.

Use proper terms for things. This reduces confusion. For example, in a moment of panic you don’t want your five year-old hollering this across the school-ground, “He just kicked me in the wee-wee!!” Remember: other children can be very cruel and have long memories.


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