How to Improve Your Toddler’s Speech Delay

If your toddler is struggling to speak, here are some of speech therapy takeaways to help us improve your toddler’s speech delay.

How to improve your toddlers speech delay
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The terrible twos are hard enough, but they are harder for the mom whose child isn’t talking. There are new levels of tantrums when your toddler is straining for you to understand him or her. I know. I’ve been there. We went through speech therapy that cost about $500 every two weeks. Today, I’m sharing the things that helped us and will hopefully help you improve your toddler’s speech delay.

Our Story

My toddler was two when I knew something was wrong. We had meltdowns multiple times a day when I struggled to understand him. He couldn’t articulate when he was sick, hurt, or angry. Therefore, these feelings manifested violent eruptions of emotion. I blamed myself. Was I doing something wrong?

But here is the thing, I’m a very hands-on mom. We homeschool. I sit and play with my little one. I read to him, talk to him and engage him. Sadly, I felt judgment from family and mom friends. My son knew his colors by 18 months and shapes by 24 months. He knew his complete alphabet by 30 months. His only delay was speech.

I took him to numerous doctors, starting with our pediatrician. The first specialist we saw was a Pediatric ENT since so many speech delays can be attributed to a hearing problem. Once that was ruled out, we went to a neurologist and neurosurgeon who assured us there was nothing wrong. Both told me they thought he’d benefit from being away from me (more on that later). We started speech therapy but it was ridiculously expensive because at two, insurance doesn’t consider it a true delay yet. While speech therapy didn’t work miracles, it definitely helped and here are the takeaways that helped us. Please know this should not be a replacement for medical advice. I’m not a medical professional. If you’re concerned about your child not speaking, consult a licensed medical professional for a diagnosis. There are physical and mental problems that can create a speech delay.

Focus on Beginning Sounds

When children start to babble, you may notice beginning sounds babababa and dadadada. As it turns out, children learn certain letter sounds before others. The b, m, a, h, p, n, w, t, and d are first sounds and first sounds are easy! Would you believe some sounds aren’t mastered until the age of 8? The J, Z, X, Zh, are some of the last letter sounds learned. Likewise, when children start forming actual words they also start with the same beginning sounds. Therefore, focus on words that start with the beginning sounds.


Consonant – Vowel Sounds

In addition to beginning sounds, children also do better when words are consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel. For example, ”mama” and ”dada” are both consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel. For instance, if your child is struggling to say train, model the word choo-choo instead. Over time, your child will master train.

Hold Things Close to Your Mouth

The speech therapist pointed out my son never really watched my mouth. He looked at my face, but he wasn’t studying my mouth to see how I was making sounds. So she had me hold objects directly to my mouth and repeat the word. The key is to get your child to focus on your lips all day.

Baby Sign Language

Studies show that babies who utilize baby sign language have an easier time transitioning to words. Baby sign language is not ASL, although there are many similarities. Many of the hand movements are simple so that a baby can do it easily. Baby sign language helps your child in different ways. It first teaches them they must communicate to get what they want. Grunts, pointing or whining will not make themselves understood – they can speak or sign. Intergrate signing into your everyday routine. Continue to say the word as you sign. Help your child by doing hand-over-hand teaching. In other words, grab your child’s hand and teach them how to make the sign. Signing helped us in the interim. It reduced tantrums because if he couldn’t say the word, he could sign it. Here are books I recommend for learning baby sign language.

Short & Sweet

Many people will tell you not to baby talk to your child. However, many children need things simplified into keywords only. Some children have a difficult time distinguishing where words begin and end in a sentence. To them, the sentence is just a rapid cacophony of sounds. For example, instead of saying, “Okay let’s go to the car. We need to go to the store and get stuff for dinner before daddy gets home” simply say “Bye Bye. Car. Store.” Let them clearly hear the key words. Over time, you’ll add additional words.

Say One, Add One

Which brings us to our next point. As your child says words, you will add an additional word. By modeling this, you demonstrate how to combine words to form sentences. For example, when your child points to the fridge for a snack, you might just model “open” at first because that is the most important word. Once your child masters “open”, you say “open fridge.” Once they can say “open fridge,” you might model, “open fridge please” or “open fridge snack.” The point is, once your child masters the word, you’ll add an additional word.

Don’t Correct

You read that correctly. I know what you’re thinking. Believe me, I had the same thoughts. I corrected my son all the time. He would say bapple instead of apple. So I would correct him and say, “no, it’s apple.” Many kids who are non-verbal also have confidence issues. They are less likely to talk if everything they DO say is wrong. The speech therapist said to model it correctly, but in a positive way. For example, “Okay, I’ll get you an apple.”


This might seem like a no-brainer. But many non-verbal children aren’t that interested in books. In fact, when a child is watching TV, they hear 300 words less per hour. My husband and I are both avid readers. I read to my son every day as an infant. But once he learned to walk (12 months), he was no longer interested in sitting – especially for a book. I was so discouraged, but I kept reading to him. Well, it was more like “at him” and “over him.” Even if he was playing with something else, I read.

I got him reinterested in books, by finding “lift the flap” books, sometimes called “peek-a-boo” books. Books that kept his little hands busy as we read. He was bored otherwise. The other thing I did was just point to the pictures and say the word. In other words, instead of reading it verbatim, I’d point to the pictures and say “Dog. Dig. Grass.” Focus on the most important words.

Child reading

In fact, when a child is watching TV, they hear 300 words less per hour.

Play Time Is Learning Time

Playtime is a great time to teach your child because they don’t realize it’s a speech lesson! For instance, if you’re playing cars, drive the car along the track and say, “go, go, go. Stop!” If you’re playing with a baby doll, you can model words like eat, night-night, baby, etc. The important thing is to say the word over and over. Remember, stop and hold the doll or car up to your mouth occasionally when you say it. Stacking blocks? Use the words “up and down.” Take every opportunity to focus on vocabulary building. Submersion will ultimately help improve your toddler’s speech delay.

Even snacks can serve as teaching time. Instead of giving your child all their snack, give him or her a little bit and withhold the rest. This is a great time to teach the word and sign for “more.”

Outside Speech Help

As mentioned previously, there are lots of causes for speech delays, including hearing problems and mental delays. Children learning multiple languages (like English and Spanish) also can be delayed. You should definitely consult a doctor if you are worried about your child not talking. Speech therapists can work directly with your child, but it’s up to you to do the “homework” they give you. Ultimately, it’s up to you, the parent, to do this kind of teaching all day long. The public school education system also has resources for speech delays.

Today, my son is doing really well. He has made incredible improvements over the last year. Doing these things have helped exponentially! The last thing I want you to know is that it isn’t your fault. Sometimes there are no reasons. Children develop later than others. You’re doing a great job mama. I sincerely hope this helps you and your little one. Even if it isn’t on your time table, your little one will learn how to talk!

The post, How to Improve Your Toddler’s Speech Delay first appeared on My Beautiful Mess

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27 thoughts on “How to Improve Your Toddler’s Speech Delay

  1. I have been around many children with delated speech and the tips you’ve shared here are extremely helpful. Having the child watch your mouth and not correcting them are big. Children get frustrated and correcting them will not help the matter at all. I hope these tips help others with speech delayed children.

  2. These are all great ideas! I especially liked your tips for encouraging reading when they don’t want to sit still. We have lots of books with different textures or flaps to lift. If nothing else, my son can often be enticed by being allowed to turn the page.

  3. Awesome tips! My son is just now learning to say two syllable words. He messes up certain letters, but I think he’ll get it in due time.

  4. Knowing what’s “normal” and what’s not in speech and language development can help parents figure out if there’s cause for concern or if their child is right on schedule! very good post ! thanks

  5. these are great tips! i actually have a friend who did express concern about her child having a speech delay. this came at such perfect timing because now i can share your tips with her!

  6. These are wonderful tips and ones I wish I had had when my son was young. He was slightly delayed in speaking and I remember being so worried about it. We also used speech therapy but I feel like these tips I read today we’re much better than what we learned eight years ago. It can be worrisome when our children don’t hit milestones at the expected time so articles like this one are so helpful and important. Thanks for sharing your tips!

    1. It is worrisome. I was very upset by it, but using these tips worked wonders and now we can’t get him to stop talking! 😆

  7. These tips are really great! Speech delay in toddlers could be the source of lot anxiety of parents. They want to make sure that they are doing everything possible to help the kids speak. These could be a very good guidelines for parents with delayed speech kids

  8. I think my nephew is going through this, too.

    His father has been taking him to many different doctors and none of them can’t give him an answer…

    I am definitely passing this article on to him.

    1. I hope it helps. Sometimes there is no answer. Children learn on their own timetable. But I found these tips helped him grasp it faster and easier. Sometimes we just need to change our teaching style which is what I learned in speech therapy.

  9. Holding things close to your mouth? That is genius and something I never would’ve thought of! I have a nephew that struggled in the beginning, but he’s getting better now. I’ll keep tabs on this post for future reference. Thanks so much for sharing this information!

  10. My oldest also had speech delays due to hearing issues. As a preschooler, he too had speech therapy. I remember that he would get SO frustrated when we couldn’t understand him. He had a large vocabulary which made it even worse.

  11. Uugggghhh I needed this so much. Our toddler just had his (late) two year check up. I thought he was on track, but the pediatrician thinks he’s behind on speech. He knows his colors and can count to 15 in English, 10 in Spanish…and he’s able to express himself fine in my opinion. I am definitely going to try some of this though.

    1. Honestly, being behind on speech is more common than I realized, especially for boys. Our speech therapist said boys struggle with speech more because they are so active and develop faster on gross motor skills. I’m sure he’ll catch up in no time. All children learn at their own pace.

    1. My oldest is three now and we are starting to spell and read. After he learned his alphabet, we started learning phonics!

  12. What a great resource! Many people can’t afford speech therapy even if covered by insurance with high deductibles now. Your tips are incredibly valuable.

  13. I have two kiddos on the autism spectrum. When we first noticed their speech delay we started working with sign language and it worked wonders for our communication and also shows the kiddos the value of communicating your wants and needs!

    1. We actually thought my son was on the spectrum. He still has some red flags, but these tips really did help him. He has made amazing strides.

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