Toddlers learn many new words and begin to form simple sentences. The number of words in a toddler’s vocabulary expands rapidly. By 2 years of age, children typically begin to connect words, such as “go” and “bye, bye” to make the simple sentence “Go bye-bye.” By 3 years, many toddlers are able to form a variety of sentences with three or four words.
Young toddlers both babble and use real words. Parents and caregivers will be able to understand a toddler some of the time, but they may have difficulty understanding the child on other occasions. People outside the toddler’s family may also have difficulty understanding all of his words.
Toddlers can use language to imitate and to talk about pretend things and past experiences. As your toddler engages in pretend play, she thinks out loud and talks to herself. She also develops an ability to talk about past experiences in one or two sentences. This is important because it is the beginning of your child’s understanding and production of stories.
Not all toddlers develop language in the same way or at the same rate. For example, some children tend to develop language in spurts, while others show more slow, steady growth. Not all children learn to talk in the same way. Some learn to speak by learning words one by one. Others pay less attention to individual words, but learn to speak in phrases, saying, “Gimme cup of juice,” for example.
Toddlers are developing an awareness of the power of words. At this age, your toddler is learning that he can use words to get attention, get his needs met, and express his feelings.
Encouraging Your Toddler
Pretend with your toddler. Help your child move beyond the “here and now” in her play with toys. Help create worlds with words as you play together. For example, if your toddler says “Truck up!” you might reply “That truck is going way up to the moon!”.
Help your toddler tell a story about a special event. To support your toddler’s emerging storytelling abilities, you might pose questions such as, “And what was on top of your birthday cake?” or elaborate on what your child says. For example, if your toddler says, “Big doggie!” you might say, “Yes, Bruno was a very big doggie, wasn’t he?” Supporting your child’s ability to tell stories helps develop her language skills as well as her appreciation of stories.
Talk about family photos. Talking with your toddler about photographs of family events is a great source for stories and will stimulate not only his memory, but his language as well. Constructing photo albums or homemade books about a particular event, such as a child’s birthday, is a wonderful way of being able to revisit special events over and over again.
Give your child words for feelings. This is a great time to introduce specific words that map onto specific feelings. When your child is frustrated, you can introduce words such as “mad”, “angry”, and “frustrated”. You can also offer your child specific phrases he can use to get your help and attention.
Next: Learn about toddlers’ reading milestones.