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Toddler - Week #75

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Your third week with a 17-month-old toddler (Part III of IV)

By Shelley Feldman, edHelperBaby

The Silence Has Been Officially Broken
           Witnessing your own child learning to speak is a miraculous thing.  It is most amazing that just 17 months ago your little one had no capacity for speaking, and was only able to pay close attention to you and your language.  It has taken such a short period of time for her to realize that she can imitate the sounds that she hears, and more importantly, that the sounds she makes actually represent things which she cares so much about.  At 17 months, your toddler has moved beyond the one-word phrases and understands that she can add words together to get her point across more clearly.  Gone are the days of trying to communicate more than one idea through a single word, because she now understands that two-word phrases convey much more meaning and get her needs met faster. This is also the month when your toddler will delight in finally being understood and can also be expected to become quite frustrated when not.


Speech and Language Development
           Your 17-month-old is now beginning to understand what you're saying and actually talking quite a bit herself.  Although she understands quite a bit more than she can say, her vocabulary is flourishing and is made up of approximately 15 words.  She is getting very good at imitating the words you speak, and don't be surprised to find her having long silly babbling conversations with herself that get quite animated.  You may even begin to notice that your little talker is practicing inflection by raising the tone of her voice when asking a question.  She should even be able to name quite a few objects if you point and inquire what they "are" and what they "say."  Your 17-month-old is truly beginning to realize the importance of speech and communication, although she can only be fully understood about half of the time (but she doesn't need to know that...).

       There are some basic milestones that should, but not definitely, be met around the 17 month mark.  Generally speaking, she should be able to recognize her name, understand the word "no," and be able to follow simple instructions.  Your toddler may now point and gesture to show what she does and does not want while attempting to verbalize about it as well.  Most likely, she has mastered waving and saying hello and good-bye, and even begun to play Pat-a-cake (despite her coordination remaining a bit shaky).   Favorites like "Mama," "Dada," and a few more nouns should be commonplace this month, along with the emergence of action words like "go," and adjectives like "hot!"  You will now hear her attempt to say new, more complicated words by mixing babble with real words, and vocalize about the enjoyment of succeeding.  This month is an amazing whirlwind for language and speech and you will experience first hand how they are quickly becoming vital parts of her development.


Your Role
           Your job is very simple this month:  talk and talk and talk.  Talk to your toddler, talk to your goldfish, talk to yourself.  In fact, research shows that the vocabularies of children with "chatty" parents are richer than those without, and children who are verbally stimulated at an early age frequently score higher on IQ tests as well.  So to keep it simple (which you don't have to do as much this month) the more he hears you talk, the more his vocabulary will grow.

       Your child's environment plays an enormous role in the development of his speech and language, and he must have adequate interaction and stimulation to learn this new skill.  Your toddler's language skills will continue to develop as long as you continue to stimulate them with conversation, and it is essential that talking and communication is one of the cornerstones of your home.  It is okay to simplify your speech when you are trying to get your point across to your little one, but don't feel that you have to avoid using complicated million dollar words anymore.  Although he may not be able to understand or copy you 100 % of the time right now, he is storing it away to surprise you with when he gets older.  An important thing to start getting rid of this month (which I'm sure you won't mind) is the sing-song speech you have been using over the past 17 months.  Take a deep breath, and let it slowly fade away because it is time to begin speaking in a more "normal" voice.  The best part about the end of the baby-talk era is that you are now less likely to continue it with your friends at dinner on Friday night.

       Now more than ever is the time when reading is essential to develop your little one's vocabulary and language.  Recite nursery rhymes and sing as much as you can possibly tolerate.  Remember that repetition helps your little one's vocabulary grow, so don't hesitate to sing the same songs over and over again.  Talk to your little one during everyday activities and give him a blow-by-blow account of what you are doing.  It's also a great time to start teaching him to take turns, and to look at one another while you have a conversation.  Be sure to reward and encourage your toddler's attempts at pronouncing new words and let him know that everything he has to say is meaningful.  Most importantly, listen to your toddler because after all, children who are listened to make better listeners.


Speech and Language Problems
           Language is one of the first challenges that your child will take on.  It is also one of the most important tasks, as failure to master language and speech can result in problems later in life.  In order to develop normal speech and language, many different things must be intact, and although most children start to show a capacity for language around this time, the actual timeframe may vary greatly.

       It is important to understand that "speech" is the ability to communicate through sounds, and "language" is actually the ability to communicate through speech.  Difficulties with verbalization may be the result of speech and/or language problems, and each should be dealt with accordingly.  Remember, a few bumps in the road of development are to be expected, but if you have any concerns please speak with your pediatrician.

       You will notice that some children may start forming small words correctly as early as 9 months, but many will wait until they are closer to 14 months.  It is also common for your 2nd,  3rd, and 4th child to speak much later than your 1st because older brothers and sisters often speak for their younger, less capable siblings allowing them to feel less pressured to "perform" early on.  Much research also points to the fact that girls tend to speak earlier than boys, and also get a grasp on using language faster and more efficiently.  This may explain why boys tend to be more aggressive and act out physically at this age, as they are struggling slightly more with communication.

       Negative behavior is often seen in children who are not using words to communicate their wants and needs effectively, or who have speech and language problems.  It makes sense that you might see acting out behavior because if she doesn't have the words to communicate her feelings and needs, she may feel frustrated.  Without words she is left with gestures and actions like biting, hitting and throwing a tantrum, so she is only doing what comes naturally despite being inappropriate.  Pictures can be helpful to use with your child if she is having difficulty with her language, however once again it is best to speak with a professional regarding what is in your child's best interest.

       If your toddler is not trying to communicate by making sounds around the 17th month, or you are having great difficulty understanding what she is trying to communicate, again, speak to your child's pediatrician.  Your pediatrician will be able to refer you for a speech and language evaluation, or Early Intervention program where your child's overall development will be evaluated and further recommendations can be appropriately made.


           What does a cow say?       

       The purpose of this activity is to help your little one learn to pronounce words and connect objects to various sounds.  Sit together, facing one another and imitate sounds while you use your body language to show action.  For example, say a cow goes "moo," and stretch out your neck, a frog goes "ribbit," and jump up and down, a train goes "Choo-Choo," and make circle motions with your arms like wheels.  Then after each sound that you make, ask him to repeat it by saying "What does a cow say?" or "What does a frog say?" etcetera.  It may help if you use basic pictures of the objects you are talking about when you do this activity in order to connect visually with the different sounds as well.


  Andrew and Devin's Opinion
           My 17-month-old twin boys love to imitate.  Any new sounds, particularly loud ones, are quickly added to their ever-expanding repertoire.  Anyone that attempts to engage them in conversation is greeted with their combined best ditch effort to reciprocate, although most often only about half of their conversation is understood.

       With this in mind, I knew that they would love this activity where they would get to strut their stuff.  I have a set of very basic flash cards that have wonderful photographs of very familiar objects, and I thought they would work well with this activity.  Most of the images on the cards were of animals and various transportation vehicles, all of which had a specific sound, or noise associated with them.

       With the cards in hand, I led Andrew and Devin to our playroom and sat them down.  One by one, I initially went through the deck of cards showing them pictures and slowly enunciating the word the image represented.  Next, I went through the cards again, said the name of the object, and imitated the sounds that the object would say.  I then asked each of the boys to repeat what I said, and was actually surprised at their ability to remain focused on this task.  Although they did have difficulty independently associating words with the images (which I expected) they could do it with my help.  They did get stuck quite a few times and "pretended" that every object on every card (cat, dog, airplane, fire truck) went "Roar!" for a little while, but overall did very well.

       Both of my boys appeared to enjoy this activity, especially when they took all of the cards and threw them all over their room.  I love their new way of telling me that they have had enough and that I am no longer in control.


  Have you begun to wonder...
           Why can't I understand what my toddler is saying?       

       There are various stages which your toddler with go through before he has completely lost his baby-talk and evolved into a free-speaking, relentless little jabbermouth.  So while he develops his speech and language skills, you can expect to struggle together on various legs of his journey.  Just imagine how frustrating it must be for him, when what is so clear to his own ears, cannot be understood by others.  And keep in mind that his language will gradually evolve into more distinguishable single words over time, and that this is a temporary stop on a very long ride.

       Right now you can only try your best to listen very carefully, and know that there is probably a hint of recognizable language hidden beneath the jargon.  Look carefully at your toddler when he is speaking, as he is most likely providing you with a bounty of clues in his facial expression and body language.  Try to avoid interrupting your child, or cutting him off before he is done with his thoughts, and pay close attention to what he has to say, even if you don't have a clue what he's talking about.  Most importantly, get down on his level, look him right in the eye and let him know that you are trying your best, and be patient.


Hungry? Tired? No, Just Frustrated!
By Lindsey Hill, edHelperBaby

           By the time your child turns eighteen months, he generally will know a variety of words with some understandable and others not so much. Getting your toddler to speak to you in order to meet his needs might be difficult at times. You have probably tried sign language as well as books and photos to help him share his feelings and needs with you in a "verbal" way. However, the hardest part is getting him what he needs WHEN he needs it and you end up trying idea after idea to figure it out.

       With a camera, a poster board, poster marker and some double-sided tape, you can turn your pantry or garage door into a communication center for your little one. Simply take a picture of the items he needs or wants in a day. For example, take a picture of his sippy cup, blanket and/or other "lovey" item, a favorite toy, the television, food he enjoys and even his sibling in different shots on the camera. Print one copy of these pictures to a 4"x 6" photograph for each poster you choose to make and tape them onto a poster board in any order. Leave room to write the word beneath the picture to encourage older siblings and your toddler to eventually recognize these important words. Try modeling for him how to touch a picture when he needs or wants something that you cannot understand. Doing this prior to a tantrum is best but might ease the frustration mid-tantrum if the poster is located in a central place. Walk him to the poster and point at objects for him. Eventually, he will grab your hand and walk you to his poster, point to an object and reward you with a gorgeous smile.


A Picture Says a Thousand Words . . . or Maybe Just Twenty Words
By Lindsey Hill, About my child Kaleb, my nephew

           My nephew, Kaleb, at twenty-two months old, speaks about five words clearly and babbles the rest. Needless to say, he becomes frustrated easily when he needs or wants something and does not receive it right away. Because it is difficult to differentiate between pain, hunger or sleepiness, his caregivers, his mom and his nana, often sift through a list of things until he calms down. To ease their jobs just a bit, I created a picture poster for Kaleb to hang at his house and at his nana's during the work day.

       We began by taking pictures of Kaleb's favorite things: soccer ball, sippy cup, high chair, television, Elmo doll, shoes and blanket. We printed the pictures online from the local drugstore, taped the pictures to a large, white poster board and posted the boards at his eye level. We even decorated it with Spiderman and Elmo stickers. When his nana or mom began to sense his frustration in the form of tears and/or throwing himself to the ground, they quickly guided him toward the poster and pointed at the pictures as they said the words slowly. Eventually, Kaleb would nod his head and give the most gorgeous smile when they pointed to the picture he so desperately was trying to communicate to them! The reward was fewer and fewer tantrums throughout the day and fewer misunderstandings for everyone!       


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