Helping your toddler practice conversational skills

Baby knows a lot more words than they used to, but vocabulary isn’t everything. Knowing words is important, but so is knowing how to use them. In the next few years, the rapid vocabulary growth that Baby’s been experiencing is going to start to slow down (as they come to know a lot of the words they'll use in their day-to-day life), but their language skills are going to keep growing dramatically as they start to master the art of having a conversation.

Involved conversations may not be a huge part of Baby’s social life now – in fact, they are probably only just starting to get around to really interacting with other young children when they play at all. As they interact with adults, though, and as their peers’ social skills grow along with their own, their ability to hold a meaningful conversation is going to become more and more important – and you can help make sure they're on the right track.

Getting the conversation started

Even though Baby may not quite understand the nuanced mechanics of back-and-forth conversation yet, the best way to learn is by doing, which makes now a great time for you and Baby to gab it up.

  • Ask questions: …and then wait for Baby to answer. If it takes them a while, that could just mean that they're thinking their answers through, and practicing the back-and-forth of conversation will help them start to pick up the rhythm of it. Leaving space for their response also lets them know that you care about what they think and that you want to hear what they have to say.
  • Practice scripts: One of the easiest ways for a toddler to have bad manners is for them to just never really learn them. A lot of the social instincts that adults have can feel really normal and basic, like things young children should just be able to pick up on by listening – and a lot of the time, they do. At other times, though, for one reason or another, toddlers may not get the memo on certain social scripts – you’ve probably talked to Baby about how “thank you” is responded to with “you’re welcome,” but if someone asks Baby how they are, a young child may not yet have gotten the memo that it’s kind to ask that person how they are too. Modeling these sort of niceties can go a long way in helping your little one be equally polite when chatting.
  • Talk about turn-taking: …and then apply that to conversation. If the trouble you and Baby are having with conversation isn’t getting them to talk, but rather it’s teaching them about when it can be time to quiet down for a few minutes, you can frame it in the same way that you talk about sharing a toy with their cousin at grandma’s or letting another child take a turn on the swing at the park.
  • Encourage good conversation: You can do this by recognizing when your child does something well, whether that means letting Baby know how glad you are that they remembered to say “thank you” or letting them know how much you appreciated hearing their thoughts about the dogs you saw at the park.

As they grow, Baby is going to keep figuring out better ways to share all the thoughts floating around in that head of theirs. Don’t be surprised if they're the one starting a conversation with you next!

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