Three Ways to Encourage Your Toddler’s Speech While Reading

As a parent, one of my favorite things to do is to cuddle up with my kids and read to them. Even when I am at my most exhausted point of my day (which, who I am kidding–this is every point of the day) reading doesn’t feel like a chore. It’s one of the few interactions that I can have with my children where they’re not jumping on top of me or asking for snacks.

One thing you may not realize is how much your child is learning during these snuggle sessions. Reading is a time to help build your child’s ability to attend to an activity. Being able to attend (or pay attention) to a preferred activity builds up a child’s ability to pay attention to less preferred activities later on in life (i.e. a lecture in highschool). Without the ability to sit down and attend to something, it is very difficult for our brain to process new information and store it appropriately.

As a Speech Language Pathologist, I’ve learned that I can provide a few small shifts in the way a parent is reading to their child to help them see progress in their child’s speech.

  1. Position yourself correctly.

Although, it’s so nice to cuddle with our little ones when they’re on our laps, we are losing out on a lot of social communication by not being able to see one another’s faces. So much of learning to talk is learning non-verbal communication. Try to sit next to or across from one another so that you’re able to see each other’s faces. This way your little one can look up at you to communicate he/she wants the page turned or to see how you’re shaping your mouth to say a certain word. You may even want to hold the book up to just below your chin to draw your child’s attention towards your face.

  1. Don’t read ALL of the words.

I’ve seen some parents race through the words just to get to the end of the page before their toddler decides to turn the page (usually within 3 seconds of looking at the page). It may seem counterintuitive to not read all of the words but if you think about the quality of the interaction on each page, verses the “productivity”, it makes sense.

Instead, try pointing to individual items on each page and naming them. You can even help your child point to each page by placing your hand over his/hers and forming a point together. Slowly move the child’s finger from one item to another naming select items on the page.

  1. Stop asking questions.

We might as well get used to this phrase now. Even my six year old reminds me that I ask too many questions–I can’t imagine what this will be like in ten more years. With that being said, I see lots of parents asking, “What color is it?”, “What is it?”, “Can you say ____?”. One thing all Speech Pathologists should learn on their first day of graduate school is never ask a toddler, “Can you say ___?” Nine times out of ten, the toddler responds with, “no”. Well, you can’t blame them for responding to your question! Try going through an entire book with your toddler without asking one question. It’s not easy!

Instead, try to narrate the book using simple statements. “I see tree” or “Airplane is up!”. It might seem very boring and less productive but I promise you, your toddler is taking much more away from the book than knowing what color is red. Also, try making silly sounds for things you see in the book such as a dog barking, tractor sound, or a buzzing bee.

There’s no right or wrong way to read a story with your toddler but there are small things you can do to make the interaction more beneficial for their speech/language development. Happy Reading!

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Ryan Landinguin

Ryan Landinguin, M.S. CCC-SLP is a certified speech language pathologist and CEO of RL Therapy Group, a multidisciplinary clinic in San Diego, California.

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