Before you get your toddler to SAY what you want them to say, you need to get them to DO what you want them to do.
Imitation - when a child copies what they see people do or hear people say - helps them learn many new skills. Kids will watch parents and caregivers and then try it out. This is how language develops as well.
While here we are talking about getting a child to imitate what we say, parents should know that imitation does not start with words. It starts with facial expressions (smiling at parents) simple movement (reaching or pointing like mom does), or even holding objects like they see parents do (holding and drinking from the bottle).
By 12 months, babies learn to stack blocks because you showed them how. And around the same age they are waving and pointing because they saw you do it.
As toddlers, they watch you during everyday activities - cooking with all of those pots and pans, using the vacuum cleaner, and walking the dog. Suddenly you notice them imitating these actions. They want a turn with the vacuum cleaner and before you know it, they've taken all of the pots and pans out of the cabinet to cook dinner.
Toddlers also imitate your words. It's how they learn to talk. They hear you do it. But as you see, imitation of words has a precursor - imitation of actions. Kids do that first. So when a child is not imitating your actions, they are not ready to imitate sounds or words.
Imitation is Important
Imitation is a crucial skill. Studies have shown that body movement imitation is predictive of later social communication and language skills. Meaning, when kids don't imitate body movements as young kids, it could predict a later problem with verbal language or social communication.
How to Get Your Child Imitating
Speech therapists know they have to make imitation fun. We can't just ask a child to "jump like I do" or "clap when I clap." They have to make it fun!
So here are a few books we recommend parents use when they participate in our parent coaching program for toddlers at Speech Therapy that Works for getting your wiggly toddler imitating what you are doing. In a toddler approved FUN way!
Flora and the Flamingo: One of our favorites for 2 reasons. First, it's a wordless picture book - so you don't even have to try to ignore the words, there are none! And second, the main character Flora is always imitating the flamingo’s poses. When we show parents how to use the book, we tell them to get off the couch and imitate the flamingo as well.
Bonus, if your child happens not to like flamingos, Flora likes to hang out with penguins and ostriches as well.
From Head to Toe: Comes as a board book so it's great for young toddlers who still try to chew their books on occasion.
This book gets kids imitating fast because they text invites them to imitate the animal's movements very directly. Parents, don't just ask your child to make the movement, get on the floor and do it with them!
It's a Tiger: The main character runs into (and away from) a tiger over and over again as the plot gets sillier and sillier. So it's perfect for acting out while reading. Kids will get to act out running, climbing, and tiptoeing over snakes!
As a bonus, the text includes short repetitive sentences ("it's a tiger!") so you can encourage your child to say the word. How? After they get to know and love the book, say "it's a...." and wait expectantly for any communication attempt (not just the word "tiger"). Give your child lots of praise!
At Speech Therapy that Works we believe that a parent is a child's first and best teacher. We want to encourage parents to be their child's speech therapist at home during play as well as everyday activities. This is at the heart of our Parent Coaching Program. You can find out more about parent coaching for toddlers here and schedule your free consultation with a speech therapist here.