Talking and play: toddlers

Talking and play: toddlers

About toddler talking

Your toddler's language will start to 'explode' soon, although your child has been learning about words, sounds and back-and-forth conversations since birth.

You can keep encouraging toddler talking by singing, saying nursery rhymes, talking, reading and telling stories.

What to expect: toddler talking

Your toddler will probably start to:

  • speak in correct sentences from 24-30 months
  • be understood more by strangers from 26-36 months
  • use pronouns (I, you, me, we, they) and some plurals from 26-36 months
  • understand most of what adults say by about three years.

By birthday number two, your toddler will probably enjoy naming everyday things, like 'doggie' and 'drink'. She'll also be able to understand and follow a simple request, like 'Bring me your book' or 'Wave bye-bye'.

By the age of three, your child will probably move on to simple sentences, like 'Where doggie gone?' By now strangers will probably be able to understand most of what your child says, even though he'll still struggle to express some words clearly.

Talking can be frustrating for toddlers - they can have so much to tell you but can't quite get the words out. If you give your toddler time, she'll get there eventually. Trying and making mistakes are important parts of learning.

Toddlers respond best to encouragement and interest, rather than correction or being made fun of, so try to avoid correcting your toddler's mistakes too often.

Learning to talk is a complex skill. When you're helping your child express himself, try to focus on having fun together, rather than seeing it as just a teaching opportunity.

Play ideas to encourage toddler talking

The more words you expose your child to, the more words she'll learn. Here are some play ideas to encourage toddler talking:

  • Read with your child.
  • Talk about the ordinary things you do each day - for example, 'I'm hanging these clothes to dry outside because it's a nice day'.
  • Respond to and talk about your child's interests. For example, if your child is pretending to drive a car, ask him where he's going.
  • Recite nursery rhymes and sing songs. Play rhymes, stories and songs in the car.
  • Copy your child's attempts at words to encourage two-way conversation. Also build on basic words - for example, when your toddler says 'train', you can say, 'Yes, it's a big red train'.
  • When your child is 'talking', show that you're listening by smiling and looking at her. Also praise your child's efforts to talk.
  • Leave time after you talk to give your child a chance to reply. He might not always have the right words, but he'll still try to respond. This helps children learn about conversation.
  • Point to and name body parts, or make it into a game - for example, 'Where is your mouth?'

Screen time and toddler talking
Screen time isn't recommended for children under 18 months, other than video-chatting. After 18 months, your child can have some screen time, but it's best to watch or play with your child.

Long periods of screen time have been associated with a range of health issues in toddlers and preschoolers, as well as the slower development of language skills, short-term memory and poorer social skills.

Concerns about toddler talking

If at 18 months your toddler isn't babbling often, isn't using meaningful words or doesn't seem to hear you or listen when others are talking, it's a good idea to see a GP, paediatrician or child and family health nurse. You might also want to see a child health professional or talk to your child's carer or early childhood educator if you can't understand your child's speech by the time she's three, or if she still isn't speaking much by this age.