Toddlers first words - Small TALK speech therapy

My toddler isn’t talking yet… how do I teach him some words?

So your beautiful little baby has grown into an adorable toddler.

You’ve been playing the guessing game of what they need and want for at least a year and wondering when your little tot will help you out and use some spoken words?

Any day now!

On average kids begin using their first words at around 12-18 months of age. Check out more on first word milestones here 

The problem is sometimes words don’t come fast enough and your child begins to get frustrated. Often they resort to yelling and squealing to get their needs met. My son thought “squealing” was the best way to get more food, until the word “ta” came along to the rescue.

This completely changed the tone of our mealtimes and made it a much more pleasant experience. He is so proud of his new word that he now says it for anything he wants. I think he enjoys the power and control it brings to his little life. It’s amazing how powerful even one word can be.

The thing is – kids won’t use words until they are ready.

You know the saying “you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make them drink,” well with kids they will use words when they are ready, but it’s up to us to show them the way.

So how can we help kids develop new words?

1. Use hand signals when you speak

When you are talking to your child use your hands to help add meaning. This will help your toddler learn the meaning of important words.

Key Word 'EAT' - Small TALK speech therapy Key Word 'DRINK' Small TALK speech therapy

2. Repeat important words often

Emphasise and repeat the word you want your child to use such as “eat,” “drink,” “more,” “go,” and “stop.” Repeat the keyword at every opportunity during the day. Sometimes this might mean you repeat the word 20 times within one meal.

Here is a toddler first words list to give you some ideas:

  • More
  • Up
  • Drink
  • Eat
  • Go
  • Stop
  • Finished
  • Ta
  • Ball
  • Car

3. Use flash cards and picture books

Use picture books and flashcards to encourage both new and familiar words. For example, my little boy loves birds, ducks and dogs, so we have flash cards of those words and then I have added a few I’d like him to say: “Mum,” “ball” and “banana.”

Boite-Flashcards Small TALK speech therapy

4. Build on words they already use

If your toddler uses one sound in their babble, help them learn other words that begin with that sound.  My little boy loves the “d” sound so we started with “Dad” then “dog” “ta” (which sometimes sounds like da), then “duck. ”

Dad/Dog - Small TALK speech therapy

5. Run with easy sounds (e.g. B, D, M, T, G, P, N)

Focus on words at your child’s level. These are short words (1-2 syllables) with early sounds such as B, D, M, T, G, P, N.

Don’t break your neck trying to get your little tot to say long words with difficult sounds. These words are far too tricky to get their little mouths around so many children will shorten words such as “banana” and “spaghetti” to “nana” and “getti.” Words with an “s” and “r” sound will also be very tricky for little ones.

Need some help?

I hope these tips help your little tot to begin using their first words.

If you feel a little lost, stuck and frustrated that things aren’t progressing with your toddlers speech get in touch with a speech pathologist.

We aren’t scary, we’re here to help you and generally we are a lot of fun!

Read more about our team here

Small TALK Speech Therapy + Mr Potato Head