Toddler speak

Understanding younger ones’ first attempts at speech.

One of the most enjoyable things about being a parent of a toddler is listening to their emerging language skills. It can also be one of the most frustrating, for both the parent and the toddler. Parents and caregivers are constantly trying to figure out what toddlers are saying, and they are constantly trying to make us understand. While our goal is to have them develop proper pronunciation, it is often those first precious attempts at communication that we remember the most. Those words become weaved into the fabric of our own family “speak.” Some words and phrases I remember most from my own children, and the many others I have had the joy to be in my life, includes:

  • Bokinee – what my son called his blanket; no one knows why
  • Obies – what one little girl used to name her elbows
  • Schuge – something that is really, really big
  • Deluster sandwich – was used to describe a deli sandwich
  • Insgusting – something that is really, really disgusting; like peas or broccoli
  • Soap poppers – something I used to try to watch while the children were supposed to be sleeping – soap operas
  • James Bonda – referring to either James Bond or Jane Fonda, or a combination of both – we never quite figured that one out
  • Ogrit – referring to yogurt
  • Necka – as in “sit necka” me (next to)
  • Fic it – as in fix it – whatever “it” might be – anything from a sandwich cut the wrong way or a toy wheel

Michigan State University Extension suggests a couple of things you can do to help your child develop early language skills.

  • Face to face talking early-on and often helps your child’s brain to lay the foundation for early speech development – they don’t get it from TV or listening to adults talk to each other. Don’t just spout out orders and directions, engage your young one in conversation, the back and forth dance of words.
  • Be sure to pronounce words clearly when speaking to children – for example, most adults get in the habit of dropping ending sounds of words. Say the word “cat” out loud. Did you actually end the word with an audible “T?” If not, your child isn’t hearing it and will have difficulty learning it.
  • Read, read, read – the more words a child hears – the more words they will know – which is directly linked to reading level by the end of the third grade.
  • Know the ages and stages of speech development in the first three years. One good resource is the Mayo Clinicwhich lists out milestones from birth to 3-years-old. Another good resource is the National Institute of Health, which has a developmental checklist you can go through if you have concerns about your child’s speech development. 

Whether or not you can understand the actual words, most toddlers do a good job of using gestures and tone of voice to communicate to the adults around them. Before you know it, those first attempts go away, and they replace them with boring adult words. If you are like me, it might be a bitter-sweet moment in parenting. If you are like me, you may also have your own family list of little literary gems! Hold onto those, and celebrate the uniqueness of your own family language.

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