Before your toddler is even talking, he is a sponge – absorbing everything you say! That’s why it’s important HOW YOU talk to your toddler in order to help him learn to talk. This is especially true if your child is a late talker, has special needs, or is in speech therapy.

Three things that you have to keep in mind while talking to you child are called Parallel Talk, Self-Talk and Expansion.


Self-talk is when you use child-friendly language to narrate what YOU are doing around the house. Talk about what you are touching, seeing, feeling, smelling, hearing, etc. Sounds pretty easy, right? It is!

Lunch Time Example: “Here’s the peas. I’m putting peas on your plate. The plate goes on your tray. It’s time to eat!”

Bath Time Example: “Pour water. Soap on. Rinse off the soap. All done!”

Parallel Talk

Parallel talk is when you use child-friendly language to narrate what YOUR CHILD is doing. Talk about what he is touching, seeing, feeling, smelling, and hearing. Think of yourself as a sports caster. This is great to do when you are down on the floor playing with your little one.

It tends to make the child more engaged in the activity, and as a bonus, he or she will often play longer with that activity! when you spend time on the floor with a certain toy or activity, it also fosters more interest for later independent play with that toy, which is nice for when you need to get some stuff done!

Example: “Oh you have a car! It’s a blue car. Push the car. Vrrooom. The car went fast!”

Things to keep in mind when you are using self-talk and parallel talk:

Narrate activities that are interesting to your child in that moment. If she is looking around and thinking about something else, then save your breath. This is a “child-directed” activity, which means you’re not forcing your agenda on her.

Self-talk for short bursts of time throughout the day – don’t self-talk constantly or you’ll just sound like the parent from the Muppet Babies (wha wah wah wha) to your child. Again, watch your child and if she is interested in something, tell her about it!

Don’t expect your child to repeat you. Right now you are filling her bucket, so that later she can use the language she has stored there.

Use child-friendly, short sentences. Instead of “Right now I am folding the pink, striped shirt so that you have clothes to wear tomorrow to daycare.” Try saying, “I’m folding clothes” and “Here’s a pink shirt!” See the section below for more on talking at the right level for you child.