How to Develop Communication Skills In Toddlers

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Your toddler is likely on the go all the time, rushing around to discover as much as possible. Have you run into any moments when they try to express something and they just can’t seem to get through to you?

Your next thought may be somewhere along the lines of communicating with your toddler and how to develop communication skills in them. At least that has been my train of thought!

Communicating is one of those HUGE parts of life. You know, just the way we connect with others and such;) Luckily, there are many ways to communicate along with using words!

My daughter is almost two years old. She is the epitome of a toddler! She is curious about everything, learns new things all day every day, and is still learning how to express herself to others.

We have had many experiences where she was frustrated because I couldn’t understand what she was asking for or trying to tell me.

how to develop communication skills in toddlers- toddler

Quick Story, I’m sure you can relate!

Not too long ago, my daughter, Jena, and I were in the kitchen. She was sitting in her high chair finishing up her lunch consisting of apple slices, a cheese stick, and chicken nuggets. Lunch seemed to be wrapping up and I left the table to take my own dishes to the sink.

Jena suddenly started screaming, pointing, and flailing her arms and legs. She had clearly seen something of interest to her! I looked around, startled, and asked what she was wanting. She kept pointing over to the counter and practically begging for the thing that had caught her eye. I then proceeded to point to different items on the counter to try to deduce what she was wanting.

She shook her head no at the first few things I pointed to. Then I reached for the container of cookies and her demeanor changed. She was all excited, nodding her head, and reaching with both hands. Aha! We figured it out! I should have known it was the cookies heehee.

This was just a simple example, but I’m sure you have had many similar experiences! Your little one is trying to communicate something to you and despite your best efforts to understand, the communication is not quite making it through.

Having had these experiences recently and thinking about things I’ve been doing to help her learn to communicate better, I figured there were other parents out there who could use some more ideas!

1. Respond to Actions

Toddlers will often gesture things to show you what they want. When they do this, you can voice out loud for them the thing they are wanting. For example, when your toddler lifts their hands up to you to be picked up you could say “You want up.” If they point at a banana, you could say “You want a banana.”

2. Read Body Language

An important way to communicate without words. It is a great thing to learn early on how to read things about people that they aren’t necessarily saying. You can occasionally point out the reactions other people give in different situations.

how to develop communication skills in toddlers- body language

If you are at a park and another child is walking away from their friend with their arms folded and a scowl on their face, you can explain to your child that he probably isn’t happy because of something that happened with his friend. Even though he didn’t say anything, you can tell by his body language.

Here is another hypothetical scenario.

Two year old Jill is playing with her three year old cousin, Jeff. Jill is trying to throw a ball to Jeff, but she keeps hitting him in the face. Jeff is now covering his face to avoid being hit. This is where you can step in! You can point Jeff’s reaction out to Jill. “See how Jeff is holding his face? He doesn’t like getting hit in the face. Maybe you could try throwing softer so he wants to keep playing with you.”

3. Be An Active Listener

Teach your kiddos young how to be an active listener.

Look at them while they are talking to you. I totally get this is not possible all the time or we’d never get anything done! But try to give them some eye-to-eye contact every day. Bonus points if you can get down to their level.

Show interest in what they are saying by nodding as they talk, moving toward something they are showing to you, and talking back.

4. Teach Sign Language

This has been a life saver in my house! I taught my daughter some basic words in sign language and it has been a huge help! The main words she learned and used are please, thank you, all done, and more. We have used these daily for months. Here are 25 words with pictures you can teach your little one.

Story Time

This story also happens to be about meal time, we seem to spend a bit of time eating heehee. Once my daughter was old enough to sit in a high chair, she loved the new-found independence of feeding herself. I would place little bits of food on her tray and she would go to town. As her little belly started to fill up, she would start throwing food off of her tray onto the floor. This was a clear indication that she was done eating. She was communicating that to me!

When I first started trying to teach my daughter these words in sign language, it seemed like a lost cause. I felt like a broken record, repeating the signs and saying the words together each time they were needed. But then, almost magically, she started to use them!

One day I looked over and she was saying “more” with her hands- hallelujah! It has been SO helpful. She is learning to be polite and say please and thank you (we are now working more on actually saying the words with our mouths). She could also tell me when she was finished by signaling with her hands, which meant we had fewer messes. *Not to say things don’t still end up on the floor! We definitely still sweep the kitchen often. =)

5. Encourage Pretend Play

Pretend Play is when children act out themselves or through toys or other people something they have imagined. This can be a fun and helpful way to practice expressing things and using words as they play. Try some of these ideas for giving your child opportunities to pretend play!

6. Read Together

how to develop communication skills in toddlers- children reading with father

There are many benefits to reading together, this is a big one! Spending time with your kiddo reading books can help them not only develop their literacy and communication skills but it can also….

* let them connect the words you are reading to the pictures by pointing things out that they see.

*help them feel connected to you as they get time to sit and read one-on-one.

*give them opportunities to make choices, they get to choose the books you read together.

*teach them how to use a book, they can turn the pages as you read.

7. Narrate Your Day

Talk to your kids ALL the time. It is amazing to see the things they learn by simply observing and repeating our words and actions.

*As you are going throughout your daily routines, tell them what you are doing:

“I’m sweeping the floor with the broom to pick up all the crumbs.”

“I’m washing the dishes in warm water.”

*Talk to them as you take care of them:

“I’m filling up the bathtub with water so you can take a bath.”

“We are going to change your diaper then put your blue pants on.”

*Talk to them as you play together:

“You are giving your fuzzy teddy bear a nice hug, does he feel soft?”

“What are you going to build with your blocks? I’m building a house.”

how to develop communication skills in toddlers- narrate your day

8. Rinse and Repeat

When your toddler uses a word, repeat it back to them in a sentence. Toddler: “milk” Parent: “Would you like some milk in your cup?” This will help to reinforce the language development and help them to learn to speak in full sentences over time.

My daughter will often nod her head vigorously when I repeat something back to her that she wants to confirm. She says “get down” telling me she is done eating and wants to get off of her chair. I say: “Do you want to get down?” She smiles and nods her head yes, over and over again, to make sure I know she does!

9. Give Positive Praise

Praise them when they do use the signs and words they know to communicate something to you. “Here is your applesauce. Thank you for saying please!”

10. Recognize and Respect Their Feelings

As you well know, your toddler is just a little person! Though they may not be able to communicate as effectively as an adult, they still have real feelings. Sometimes things that seem so obvious to us may not be as easy for your little one to understand. “I know it is scary to turn out the lights and be in the dark. You can sleep with your teddy bear and blanket. Hug them during the night if you feel scared.”

how to develop communication skills in toddlers- feelings

11. Teach By Example

As the old saying goes, “actions speak louder than words.” As you go throughout each day with your kids, model the kind of behavior you want to see from them. Use clear words to describe what you are doing, feeling, and want them to do. You may once again be surprised to find the things your kids learn just from watching you.


Trial and Error

From my angle, parenting is a lot of trial and error. What works amazingly well for some kids just might not be the thing for others. If you have already tried something with one child, don’t throw it out the window for good. It just might help another child down the road!

The great thing about this parenting deal it is that we can all help each other. Sharing is caring, right?! I have learned so much from watching and talking to other parents. Keep in mind that your experiences and knowledge are so valuable, you never know who you can help by just mentioning a small triumph you had with your kids.

Happy Communicating!

What other things have helped your toddler learn to communicate better? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!

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