For Parents

For Parents

Help your toddler make the most out of language learning opportunities

Learn about how and how much to talk to your toddler.

Kids need to hear a lot of words

In the past, research has shown the importance of parents talking to their children often and teaching them many different words. This is called language stimulation. A lot of stimulation leads to a larger vocabulary for toddlers and helps prepare them for doing well in school later on. It’s so important that some cities and states have started programs to help parents increase the number of words they use when talking to their children.


Kids just want to have fu-un, oohh kids just want to have fun

Unfortunately, only thinking about how many words you are saying to your child isn’t enough.  Research has also shown that how you talk to your child matters. Young children’s language improves when parents notice and respond to their child’s ideas, words, and gestures.  This is called sensitivity or “following the child’s lead.”  Children learn best when they are interested in the activity and having fun with another person!


Stimulation or Sensitivity, Is one more important?

A recent research study looked into whether stimulation or sensitivity was more important for toddlers’ language development. The researchers wanted to know if stimulation and sensitivity played different roles at different ages. To find out, they watched videos of parents playing with their toddlers when the children were 14, 24, and 36 months old. The researchers rated the parents’ sensitivity by how often they responded to their child’s words and gestures. They also rated how much language stimulation the parent provided to their child.  These ratings were compared to the child’s vocabulary to see if there were any patterns.


The researchers found that for the child’s first year or two, sensitivity was more important for a child’s language skills. However, as the child got older, the amount of language stimulation the parent used had a larger role in building a child’s vocabulary. In other words, when a child is very young it’s important how parents are talking to them. When a child gets older, how much language the parent uses begins to matter more.


What does this mean for you as a parent?

  1.      Notice and respond to early communication attempts. Watch for and be sensitive to your toddler’s attempts to talk by responding with simple and related language. For example, if your child hands you a container of bubbles, you could respond by saying “open!” or “bubbles!” Your sensitivity to your child’s communication is more important than the total number of words that you say for their first 1-2 years of life.
  2.      Engage your older child in frequent conversation.  As your child gets older and begins to talk more, they can begin to understand and use words that they overhear. You can help by taking advantage of every opportunity to teach your child new words. For example, even during bath time, you can teach your child words like cold, hot, wet, dry, splash, dip, pour, in, out, and more!


Vallotton, C. D., Mastergeorge, A., Foster, T., Decker, K. B., & Ayoub, C. (2016). Parenting supports for early vocabulary development: Specific effocts of sensitivity and stimulation through infancy [Electronic version]. Infancy, 1-30. doi:10.1111/infa.12147