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Many toddlers love to talk — even the ones who don't know many words. Not only is talking fun for them, it helps them develop their communication skills. So how can you engage your toddler in conversation? Here are six ideas:
Rehash the day. For a toddler, every day is an adventure. Buying an apple, getting the car washed, or picking up the dry-cleaning can be great fodder for discussion. Every night before bed, talk through the day's events. If your child still speaks in one- or two-word spurts then you can get the details by asking very specific questions. Say your child tells you he went to the playground. Get more specifics with questions like: Who took you there? Who did you play with? Which toy did you like most? Try to frame your questions so that they require more than a yes or no response. Reviewing the day's events can be especially helpful to parents of children in daycare because it helps you catch up on your child's activities.
Pause during story time. After the hundredth reading of Good Night Moon, you shouldn't be too surprised to learn that your child has memorized this story. Here's a way to let him shine, while getting him to practice his ever-developing verbal skills. Begin reading the story — or any of his favorites — and then pause occasionally so he can fill in the blanks. Prompt him if you need to and have him repeat after you. Each time you read the book, pause at a different point in the story so he can work on the pronunciation of new words.
Play word games. Speaking is infinitely more appealing when it's made into a game. Younger toddlers will like a game called "What's This?" When you're in a new environment — a coffee shop, an airport, or the corner market — point to something and ask, "What's this?" Challenge your child to come up with the correct name. To keep him from getting frustrated, start out with a few objects — a cat, a cookie — you're sure he knows. Then every once in a while sneak in a new word. If he doesn't know, whisper the answer and let him shout it out. Then, tell him what the object is and how it functions. ("That's an umbrella. We use umbrellas to keep rain off our heads.")
Older toddlers will appreciate a slightly more complex game called "What Happens Next?" Begin to tell your child a story, and, just as the plot begins to thicken, ask him to tell you how it ends. If your child isn't verbal enough to get specific on his own, you can help him along by asking a few leading questions like "Do you think the doggie ran away?" Once you agree on a plot direction, you can ask him for more details like "Where do you think the dog went?" or "Who came with him?"
Chat on the phone. Most kids develop a fascination with the phone long before they can talk. Use that allure to get yours chatting. When friends and family call to say hello, put your toddler on for a little while. With no visual cues to help, your child will be forced to hone his pronunciations. When he starts to get frustrated, however, it's a good idea to step in and translate. Ask the caller to pose simple questions. If he won't answer them, coax him with some questions of your own. For example, "Can you tell Grandma what you ate for lunch today?" or "What toys did you play with in the sandbox this morning?"
Include him in discussions. Little pitchers have big ears, but given the right incentive, they can also have big mouths. In other words, don't assume that all adult conversations are over his head. Your child understands more than you suspect. If you and your partner are trying to decide on the color to paint the bathroom, for example, ask your toddler related questions. ("What color is the bathroom wall? What color should we paint the bathroom wall?") Even if you decide on something more conservative than purple, your toddler still benefits from voicing his opinion.
Record him on video. Most kids love to perform for the camera. Turn on yours, shout "action," and see how your child reacts. Some kids need no encouraging at all and will immediately ham it up. Others may need a little more stage direction. If your child has a favorite rhyme or song, ask him to perform it. Ask a series of questions, TV-interview style. To keep him interested, play back the video right away. Once he sees and hears himself, he'll be more excited to give an encore performance.