We are born with a need to communicate and connect. From birth your baby is already looking at you, making facial gestures, making sounds, or crying. They are communicating with you. You try to interpret what they want, “Are you hungry, do you want to be held, are you feeling tired?” We continue the communication and encourage the baby by letting them know we are trying to understand their message.
As your child gets older they continue to communicate non-verbally until they have the language. A toddler will point, make a loud noise, make a facial expression, use body language to let you know what they want. How you respond can improve their language acquisition. Giving words to the actions is an important step of support for your young child.
Language is symbolic – a word represents something, an object, an action, etc. The connection between the words and what they mean is a developmental step for your child. As they gain the ability to pronounce the words and the understanding of what each word means they will meet with more success in communicating.
You can help by giving lots of encouragement and positive feedback at the toddler stage. Your goal is to help your child reach the next level in their communication skills. If they are babbling you can start by one word labeling of the objects they are playing with or the actions they are doing. If they are communicating with one or two words you can start using three or four word sentences to model their next step.
Expanding your child’s vocabulary through experience extends their vocabulary. You can comment on and describe what you’re doing during everyday familiar activities. You can miss out a known step. Getting ready in the morning you can start to brush your teeth without putting the toothpaste on the brush. Then act as if you’ve forgotten something but can’t remember what it is – let your child instruct you, either with words or actions, on what you need to do.
You can improve what they’re saying in a positive way. If your child says, “dog door.” You can say, “Yes the dog is looking at the door. Do you think the dog wants to go for a walk?” You have heard what your child said, you validated it with your response, and you introduced more complex language by asking the question.
During imaginative play together you can bring further meaning and new concepts in language to your young child. Playing with the farm you can follow their lead with the game by identifying what they’re doing, “I see you’re putting the sheep in the field. Are they going to eat the grass?” You are modelling good language structure and giving your child more complex ideas to try out in the game.
Continue to expand pronunciation and understanding of language through storybooks, songs, and rhymes. Introduce new words and follow your child’s ideas in a positive way. The more encouragement and feedback your child gets at these early stages the more competent they will be with their vocabulary and communication.