Updated: Mar 5
Oftentimes parents and caregivers are wondering how to get their toddler to start using words. In order for your child to start using words, they first need to learn how to imitate or copy words. It's easy to want to jump to words, but oftentimes toddlers aren't quite ready to start there. Instead, I encourage parents to work on incorporating silly sounds into play and daily routines. Play sounds are great "first words" because they grab a child's attention and are typically easier for a child to try to copy than most "real" words.
What Do I Mean By Play Sounds?
Play sounds are sound effects or fun words that are going to be easiest for your child to start to copy. Play sounds can be exclamatory words, like, "Oh no!," "Yay!," and "Shhh..." or sounds that we associate with animals or vehicles, such as "moo," "quack," and "beep-beep." These play sounds are simple and FUN, which is why toddlers are often excited by these sounds and are more willing to try to copy them. Starting with play sounds helps your child learn how to imitate at a level that is easier for them to be successful (compared to "real" words).
Try these Play Sounds
Mmm, mmm, mmm (when eating)
Slurping sound (while pretend drinking)
Hmmm (while thinking)
Grunt (when exerting effort)
Ah-choo (fake sneeze)
Brrr (shiver like you're cold)
Squeal or scream
Mwah (when giving kisses)
Pee-yew (something is stinky)
Shhh (be quiet)
Animal sounds and other play sounds like car and truck noises such as "beep beep" and "vroom" are powerful play sounds that toddlers love! Here are some more examples of play sounds you can try!
Roar (lion, dinosaur, etc.)
Siren (ambulance/firetruck/police car)
Boom/Pow (crashing into something)
How and When to Use Play Sounds
I find that most parents and caregivers feel comfortable using these sounds when playing with their child but you can also use them during everyday activities and routines!
Try grunting as you pretend to struggle to open a container during mealtime or say "mmm-mmm-mmm" when the food is good! Try letting out an "ahhhh" after a big sip of water or blowing on your hot cup of coffee.
Playfully say "pee-yew" every time you change your child's diaper or take off your child's shoes or socks. Say "shhh..." as you put little sister down for her nap.
Pick 3-5 activities that you do with your child everyday and think of a play sound that you could add to that routine. It might take some practice, but soon I bet you'll find yourself using these play sounds easily throughout the day! Remember, repetition is key for learning any new skill. Create many opportunities each day for your child to hear (and eventually copy and use) these play sounds!
Get silly and make play fun and noisy with your child!
If you get one thing from this post, I hope it's permission to be super silly when playing with your child. If you are having fun, your child is most likely having fun too! By using play sounds you are helping your child move toward using words!
For more tips and ideas for helping your child learn to talk check out Parent Strategies for Facilitating Language Development. We would love to hear how you incorporate play sounds into your daily routines and/or play with your child! Leave a comment below!
If you feel like your child may benefit from a speech/language evaluation please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we would be happy to talk with you about your concerns!
Check out the Imitation Book! This is a great first step in helping parents/caregivers learn to use silly play sounds with their child! The Imitation Book gives parents confidence in using silly play sounds!