Instead of making demands, like “say ball,” do this instead

When your toddler is learning to talk, it’s an exciting albeit potentially stressful time. Experts estimate that one in five toddlers is speech delayed, which means around 20 percent of parents could use the advice in this viral TikTok video from Michael Tatro, a pediatric speech-language pathologist and mom.

In her video, Tatro explains three common mistakes parents tend to make when their toddlers are speech-delayed—and what you should do instead.


Parents, you’re doing a good job. #speechdelay and #speechdisorder is not your fault. There is no right or wrong. Some strategies work better than others and vary kid to kid. #speechtherapy#toddler#language#development#slpoftiktok#earlyintervention

♬ original sound – Speechie

1. Demanding that they speak.

The first mistake is asking them to say a lot of words. You know how this one goes: “Say ‘ball.'” “Say ‘spoon.'” “Say ‘nap.'”

“This can backfire because you’re setting up a demand and toddlers are really fighting for autonomy,” Tatro explains. “Instead, use the ‘Rule of Threes.'”

That means saying the word you want to model three times for your toddler, but naturally. For example: “Ball? You want the ball? OK, here’s the ball.”

2. Ignoring their attempts.

The second mistake she points out is “not acknowledging their attempt or trying to correct them.” Tatro explains, “If your toddler is using a limited number of words, don’t worry about the articulation right now. We want to be as encouraging as possible so that they have the confidence to try.”

So if you hear your child say a word incorrectly, don’t correct them—instead, be a good speech model. Repeat the word back to them correctly, but without the expectation that they imitate you. For example, if they say “Ba,” you say, “Yeah, ball! That’s a ball!”

3. Thinking that they aren’t trying hard enough.

The third mistake is labeling a speech-delayed child as “lazy” or “stubborn.” Tatro notes that yes, some toddlers are definitely stubborn. But the important thing to remember is it takes more energy to cry or throw a tantrum than it does to use a word.

“If they could, they would,” she says.

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