How to encourage your toddler to talk. Common first words for babies.

This post addresses the two questions I get most often in my work as a speech language pathologist, “When do babies start talking?”  and “How can I encourage my baby to talk?”. It is meant to be a helpful guide, but is by no means diagnostic or prognostic. If you have questions about your child’s development, speak to your pediatrician or a speech language pathologist in your area!

When you’re a new mom, the laundry list of “must-dos” and “must-haves” for your baby can feel overwhelming. Incredibly overwhelming. Insanely overwhelming. From the moment you and your baby take your first steps together as mother and child, the windfall of advice about the best ways to help your child thrive begins. Buy organic. Cloth diaper. Sleep train right away. Babywear. Let them cry. Don’t offer a pacifier. And for the love of God, never let them see a screen!

And while most of this advice is well-intentioned, it often does more harm than good – not because it’s not based in truth, but because there is nothing a new mom needs to hear less than more things she should be doing with her new, little bundle of joy. Because if they’re honest, all any new mom wants to do, is curl up in a rocking chair, smell her baby’s head and slowly drift off to sleep for roughly one million hours.

Now, as much as we’d all like to raise thoughtful, intelligent human beings from infants to adults, while napping – that’s not exactly a thing. And until it is a thing, my experience as both a mother and a speech language pathologist has taught me that there is only one thing that you must do with your baby.

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You have to talk to them.

Well I mean, you also have to like, feed them and change them and stuff. And all those other “survival-type” things, but you know what I’m getting at.

The absolute best advice for kickstarting a child’s language development that I can give to any mom, from both a personal and professional perspective is to talk to your babies. Whether you talk to them while they’re sitting in a high-chair, strapped to your body or pushing them in a stroller, just talk to them. Tell them what they’re looking at; tell them about their siblings, their grandmother, their latest bowel movement – anything! Your eye contact, vocal inflection and language modeling will set their little brains on fire (in a good way!) and help them understand the reciprocity of communication.

When Do Babies Start Talking?

Typically, your little one will start coo-ing back to you around 2-3 months (e.g. “ooooo”, “aaaah”), babbling around 5-7 months (e.g. “mama”, “baba”, “wawa”), speaking intentional, single words around 12 months (e.g. dog, ball) and combining two words (e.g. “mama no”, “dada ball”) between 18-24 months.

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And I realize that on some days, even talking to your baby can feel like too much. And that’s okay. When I had two children under three-years-old, sometimes I talked to my baby about how much I didn’t feel like talking. I talked about how adulating was hard and how laundry was the worst. And about how I had ruined another one of his onesies by not turning it inside out before putting it in the washing machine. Side note: WHY do baby clothes require inversion during laundering? What sleep-deprived mother is not going to screw this up? He didn’t care what we talked about, he just enjoyed the intonation of my voice and the contact of my eyes.

So mamas, there’s a lot of information out there about all the things to have to do with and buy for your baby, but just know this: All those gut instincts you have about how you should take care of your little one, are probably right! You’ve totally got this. So just take a moment, take a breath and talk to that little one about what a rockstar you are.

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