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Speech Therapist Paulette Chaffee Answers How to Help A “Late-Talker” Toddler

The day when toddlers speak their first words is a beautiful and exciting moment for parents to experience. However, some parents might find their anxiety heightening when they wait and wait, but that day has yet to come. As more time goes by and a toddler does not use words to communicate and instead uses sounds and incomplete words, a parent might start to wonder if a child is shy or if there might be another underlining issue. Speech therapist and teacher, Paulette Chaffee, offers worried parents these quick tips to follow if their child has communicated less than ten words by the age of 18 months or less than 50 words by two years old:

1. Music

Songs and singing are excellent ways to stimulate speech for a toddler. Some toddlers respond better to music before speech, as the rhythm of music can make more sense when learning words and verbal communication. Parents can slow down songs so toddlers can articulate each word and make a singing session more fun by incorporating lots of expressions.

2. Self-Talk

Parents can be speech and conversation role models for their toddlers by partaking in self-talk throughout the day or narrating what they are doing or what the child is doing aloud. Speaking slowly enough so a child can understand word breakdowns is also effective for “late-talkers.”

3. Use Toys

Pairing specific toys with common words is a great way to encourage toddlers to talk. For example, if a parent and a toddler are playing with baby dolls, repeat the word “baby” while interacting with the toy.

4. Use Mealtime for a Word Game

When it is time for a toddler to eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack time, parents can utilize this opportunity to associate a word game. This mealtime game works best when serving a toddler two food choices. Before giving a toddler a bite of food, a parent can offer the two food choices and wait for the child to respond. For example, if a child is eating ham and cheese, a parent should hold both food options on display for the toddler to choose while saying “ham or cheese” and then waiting for a response. If the child does not respond, the parent should repeat “ham or cheese” while showing each option. At any point, if the child repeats a word to pick a food choice, the parent should immediately give that food to the child to eat. Of course, the child might not repeat the word but rather point at the food option. In that case, the parent should give the child the food they pointed at while saying, “Ham, you picked ham, yum!”

5. Try “3 Strikes & You Still Win”

Parents can use a technique to encourage their “late-talker” called “3 Strikes & You Still Win.” First, a parent can choose a simple object like a ball for this activity. Then, the parent should look at their toddler and say the word of the object while holding the object near their mouth. The parent should then wait for the child to repeat or respond. Holding the object near the parent’s mouth brings a toddler’s attention to the parent’s mouth so the toddler can see how the parent says the word. If the child does not respond or repeat the word, the parent should move the object towards the child, keeping the object out of the toddler’s reach, and repeat the word. If the child still does not respond, the parent should extend the object for the toddler to grab while repeating the word for the third time.

About Paulette Chaffee

Paulette Chaffee is an educator, children’s advocate, grants facilitator, lawyer, and member of various non-profit boards. She obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Redlands in Communicative Disorders and a California Lifetime Teaching Credential. She is currently the Ambassador for Orange County 4th District and a board member of All the Arts for All the Kids.