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Starting to Speak

Of all the stages of my eight children's lives, it's their toddler years that stood out most. Though as babies they warmed my heart every day, after one year they got really interesting as their personalities emerged. But the toddler stage can also be the most challenging. Just when you thought you'd figured out your baby's feeding, sleeping, and pooping habits, suddenly there's a slew of new situations and quirks to get a handle on. Here's one of the most common questions that I'm asked at toddler checkups:

How can I help my 20-month-old speak in complete sentences?
Children this age rarely speak in long sentences. Instead, your child may commonly use one or two word phrases like "Ball!" or "Go bye-bye," accompanied by gestures. His body lan-guage may be quite good (like pointing to the cookie jar and uttering "uh-uh"). If so, acknowledging body language by responding with "You want a cookie?" lets him hear the right words to accompany his gesture and teaches that words and actions go to-gether. It can be a slow process; at 18 months our son Matthew would point to the backyard and say "go." By 2, he could say "Go outside."

When it comes to speech development, what really matters is that your child learns to communicate comfortably before he speaks perfectly. At this age, it's just not helpful to correct him when he doesn't use complete sentences. Instead, to encourage him to use full sentences, expand on what he's saying. If he points to a bird and says, "buh," you can reply by commenting, "Yes, that's a bird. Birds fly in the sky." You've given him not only positive reinforcement but a word-associated idea as well. Modeling, rather than correcting, by the way, is the best way to teach him about language, so always enunciate well and speak in complete sentences when you talk to him.

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