Parent Strategies to Encourage Toddlers 1st Words

A child’s first word is an important moment for a parent or caregiver. A 1 st word typically comes
around a child’s 1 st birthday.  See below some strategies for parents to use to help their child
utter those first words.

1. Imitation! Before a child is able to use words, an essential foundational skill is being able to imitate actions (e.g. clapping hands after you, blowing a kiss or waving goodbye) and then eventually imitating speech sounds.  Start with imitating basic actions (such as clapping or blowing bubbles) and baby sign language!

2. Start with easy sounds! Vowels are easier to imitate than consonants and some consonants are easier than other. The first sounds a child usually produces include: ‘b’ (as in "ball"), ‘m’ (as in "mama"), ‘p’ (as in ‘’up’’) and ‘d’ (as in "dada"). Make sure to get close to your child’s face and practice saying words with these sounds using lots of fun facial expressions to engage your child! Don’t forget to pause and give your child time to try and imitate you.

3. Model language throughout the day to your little one! Talk while performing daily routines (e.g. “Mommy is changing your diaper. Pee-ew! Dirty diaper. Wipe bum. Clean diaper. All done!). Remember to speak slowly and use a sing-songy voice. Try to incorporate verbal routines into your daily life. These are words that are repeated at a predictable time during an activity. The repetitiveness and predictability of a verbal routine make it easier for children to understand the words that come next and then they are more likely to speak them. Some example of verbal routines include: splish splash time for a bath; up, up, up the stairs, up the stairs we go; in seat, time to eat! You can find lots more examples online.

4. Read with your little one! Every day reading with your child can enhance their language skills and foster a positive parent-child connection. While reading point to pictures and describe what you see. Remember to pause throughout to see if your child will try to imitate any words. Make sure to praise them for any sound you hear even if it doesn’t sound accurate!

5. More comments less questions! Some people think if you constantly fire questions at a toddler it will get them to talk. This is false! Rule of thumb, for every 1 question you ask, model 3 related comments. For example: ‘Where’s daddy? Daddy gone. Daddy not here. Daddy at work!’ This will reduce talking pressure, keep the interaction going and maybe your child will imitate one of the answers!


Mr. Gabriel Rafi

  • Graduated in neuropsychology and cognitive psychology from University Paris Descartes, France.