Helping your toddler to communicate

According to the Early Intervention Foundation report, speech is the last thing to develop in communication. The building blocks to speech are attention, understanding and talking. This is where parents, carers and siblings come in as helping your children to learn to talk at home through various activities is very important for your their development. 


Reading with your baby is a great way for them to pick up familiar sounds and start to try them for themselves. If your child has a favourite story or song, go over it and use it to peak their attention. 

Repetition of a sound is an excellent way to help your child remember and recall. You could try singing a song and leave a gap for them to fill in the blank, for example ‘Humpty dumpty sat on a….” . When reading, say, “the cat likes to drink….”. The repetition of something will start to sequence and jog their memory to fill the gaps and develop their language. 

Understanding is a key building block to speech

For children to speak they require understanding. Repeat and talk through tasks that you are doing, “mummy is getting dressed” or “can you get your coat please?”. This allows them to link the language to the activity and provide them with understanding. When they have this you will hear them attempting the sounds. 

Bilingual households

Being chatty is great. Talking to your children really is the key to get them to be talkers. If English is not your first language then speak in the language most comfortable to you. This will enrich your child’s learning and help them to develop an understanding of what’s around them.  

Once they have this understanding they can be taught second languages with greater ease. In some cases one parent may speak a different language to the other, children can adapt to this well. A bilingual household can support a child’s learning and give them an advantage. 

Questions to ask to improve speech

Ask your child to:

  • point out objects, “where is the spoon?”

  • point out parts of themselves, 2where is your nose? Your eyes? Your mouth?” 

  • can they find where the family pet is? 

As parents and carers, although you may have recognised all the behaviours your toddler makes to ask for something such as ‘pointing to cup for a drink’ or banging a cupboard when they are hungry, continue to discuss with them their requests.

Try saying, “are you hungry?” or “would you like a drink?” Prompt them to say “drink please”. At this stage encourage more extended sentences, getting your toddler to build on the word and sentence structures they already say. You might start with, “coat off’ and build to saying, “we’re taking your coat off.” 

Try saying your child’s name at the start of a sentence, this can get their attention. If you ask a question, give them plenty of time to answer you.

When pottering around the house, cleaning or doing everyday tasks, chat with your child about what you're doing. Involve them in cooking, cleaning and shopping and talk through what you’re doing. Turn off the TV or radio to avoid distractions. 

Top tips for 2-3 year olds speech

  • When showing them animals make the sound the animal makes, “woof woof” for a dog and so on

  • Using symbol words is helpful such as ‘uh oh’ or ‘whoops’ if you spill or drop something

  • These are words that we all use subconsciously so be very mindful of the language and words you select to say as they’re likely to be copied

  • Research emphasises play as a brilliant way to learn new speech 

  • If your child has a dummy, this will be a huge hurdle in the way of developing your child’s speech. We often see children talking with the dummy in their mouth, which then hinders their pronunciation of words. Dummies limit the amount of attempts your child will have at talking because it gets in the way. See our ‘ditch the dummy’ page for tips and support on how to reduce their use of the dummy.

We're aware that children can often be drawn to the TV and screen time on devices. Some activities and children’s programmes can really encourage speech with nursery rhymes and songs that your child will become familiar with. 

Often there are interactive discussions with the presenters which can be beneficial to your toddler’s speech. We encourage you to also join in and watch the programme. This way you can support the learning and make the TV programme interactive by singing along or talking about what’s on the screen. 

We recommend limiting screen time. Time away from screens will help your child to develop social skills, have a better sleep pattern and be more physically active.

It's common for children with older siblings to get used to people speaking for them. Whilst it's lovely to see big brothers and sisters helping and understanding the cues of their toddler, avoid allowing them to speak for them. 

The ICAN website can help you to look at the different ages and stages of speech development and how to support this. Ages and stages of speech development - information for parents.

ICAN, is a charity that offers professional advice about age related milestones, ideas on and resources and interactions that can be carried out within the child’s home to help aid and develop communication skills without financial burden or the need for lots of space. 

If you're worried about your child's speech or language development, talk to your GP or health visitor. If necessary, they will refer your child to your local speech and language therapy department.