Written by: Anna Rooney

The most surprising lesson I learned from toddlers was the importance of listening. When I first started working in early intervention speech therapy, I thought that I needed to constantly bombard the child with language. In graduate school, we learned that toddlers needed a lot of language models. We needed to use self-talk (talking about what we were doing) and parallel talk (talking about what the child was doing). During speech therapy sessions, I talked and talked and talked. But, I didn’t listen 
While it is important to model language for toddlers throughout the day, it’s even more important to listen. It is OK to be quiet. We can learn a lot by watching, waiting, and tuning in to our children. When I took the focus off getting the child to talk, I realized that the children were trying to communicate. I just wasn’t tuned in to their cues. I learned to wait and let the toddler start the interaction. After all, communication is not just about talking, it’s about interacting. 
The following interactive strategies can help with toddler communication:
Imitate your toddler’s actions and make a comment. Making a comment is most powerful when it matches what your toddler is doing or saying at that very moment so join in on the action (pushing a car, stacking blocks, pouring water, etc…). When making comments, use clear, animated speech that gets your toddler’s attention. Match your toddler’s language. For example, if your pre-verbal toddler is pushing a car, push another car. Then add language to the action by saying “Go, car go!” If your toddler is using words, use phrases. If your toddler is using phrases, use simple sentences
• The Hanen© early childhood communication program emphasizes OWLING which means Observing, Waiting, and Listening. We are observing our toddlers to find out what they are interested in and what the toddler might be telling us. We are waiting to give our toddlers time to start the interaction and time to respond. We are listening to understand the toddler’s message and validate their communication attempts. 
• It is important take the focus off getting our toddlers to talk. Pressuring toddlers to talk by using on-demand speech like “say cup” does not help them learn language and it takes the joy out of communication. Instead, get face to face with your toddler and observe, wait, and listen for your toddler to initiate. Let your toddler lead. The best way to help your toddler communicate is by letting her start the interaction with you. When your toddler leads, he is interested. When he is interested, the most language learning occurs. 
Interpreting, rephrasing, and repeating your toddler’s messages will help with your toddlers’ communication development. Interpretyour toddler’s gestures and sounds as words. For example, if your toddler reaches for a cup and says “ah”, say “Cup! You want the cup? Here is the cup.” If your toddler uses words that are hard to understand, interpret the message with clear, slow speech. For example if your toddler says “Dow ooh”, repeat, “The cow says moo”. When necessary rephrase your toddler’s messages so your toddler can learn correct sentence grammar. For example, if your toddler says “Her go in”, say “Yes! She goes in.” Repeat your toddlers’ messages to show that you are listening to what they are saying. Interpreting and rephrasing your toddler’s talk helps your toddler to learn correct pronunciation and grammar. By repeating instead of correcting, we can help toddlers feel confident about communicating.
Want to learn more about where your child should be in regards to speech milestones? Want to learn some new tactics that can help your toddler communicate better with you and others? Join us for the Chicago Toddler Expo on April 26th. Ms. Rooney will be conducting a 9am workshop and will be available in our exhibitor area afterward. RSVP HERE!
Posted on April 08, 2014 at 9:26 PM