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New this month: Fine-tuning skills
You've seen your child testing her independence during the last few weeks and months, but experts say that once a child can talk she knows, finally, that she is her own person. Your 16-month-old may be able to say as many as seven words — or even more — clearly. But she will still rely mostly on nonverbal communication, pointing and gesturing to tell you what she wants or what she wants you to see.
Your toddler understands much more than she can speak. (The challenge for toddlers is not understanding speech, but coordinating their lips and tongue and breath well enough to make themselves understandable.) You may discover this accidentally one day when you're, for instance, asking the family dog where you possibly could have put your car keys, only to have your child point to the hook where they're hanging. Or you may ask your child to go get her shoes from her closet and watch in amazement as she trots down the hall and returns with them a minute later. You're not imagining it — she really does know what you're saying.
What you can do
Her ability to comprehend more than she can communicate means it's important for you to speak slowly and clearly to her. You've probably stopped much of the singsong-y speech that you used instinctively when your child was a baby, but now you can use simple words and phrases to get, and hold, her attention. Using the correct words for objects — "toes" instead of "tootsies," or "cookie" instead of "coo-coo" — will cut down on her confusion as she learns to use words. Listening to your child without interruption is also essential at this stage. The toddler who is listened to, especially by her parents and caregivers, is a better listener, which in turn will enhance her speaking skills.
Other developments: Developing the five senses, reading more
Daily life is one big adventure for a newly mobile toddler. You've witnessed yours touch, smell, examine, and at least try to taste nearly everything that she finds. By fully investigating objects this way, children learn to distinguish the qualities of various things. She'll probably find tools — a whisk from the kitchen cupboard — and live creatures — an earthworm that creeps along the gutter after a rainstorm — especially fascinating.
You can make these "learning" experiences even more educational by talking to your toddler about what she's experiencing. Name the sounds that surround you when you're outside: "Do you hear that bird? Can you hear the sprinklers that are watering the grass?" for instance, or challenge her to find something particular, like "Help me find a rock that feels smooth." Learning to observe, listen, and investigate will help her develop important sensory skills.
Though your 16-month-old may not want to sit still for more than a few minutes, she is probably showing a little more interest in having stories read to her. Don't be frustrated if she seems to prefer pointing at specific pictures and having you tell her about them rather than listening to you read the text. One of her favorite things to do when looking at books may be to point to objects she has words for — such as ball, cat, dog, etc., and say them (over and over). But if you ask her to "Find the ... chicken (or the moon, or a car) ..." she'll enthusiastically do that, too. She is also probably very adamant about wanting to help you turn the pages, a sign of her increasing autonomy.
See all our articles on toddler development.