7 Tips for Raising Great Talkers

By Michelle MacRoy-Higgins, Ph.D., and Carlyn Kolker

Talking to your child is the least expensive gift you’ll ever give her, but among the most valuable.

Research has shown that children who are exposed to more words as babies and toddlers develop larger vocabularies as they grow up, and ultimately achieve greater academic success than children who hear fewer words in their early years. The message is clear: Talk to your baby, talk to your toddler and talk to your preschooler often — in the bath, in the stroller, on the way to the store.

Some talk carries more weight than other talk, however. Sure, it’s great to expose your child to lots of words, but a few easy tricks will really help his speech and language develop. Try these strategies to engage your child in a way that can improve his vocabulary, develop his story-telling skills and foster his critical thinking:

Go beyond labeling- Telling your child the name of everything around you — “that’s a truck,” “that’s a train,” “that’s a flower” — is fine, but, well, not good enough. If you expand your sentences and talk about what you see, your child will pick up a varied vocabulary. She’ll also begin to better understand how to use words. Talk so that, in addition to saying, “That’s a stuffed pig,” you tell her, “A pig is a farm animal. It has a big snout and curly tail, and it likes mud!”

Ask open-ended questions.If you ask your child yes or no questions, like, “Did you have fun at grandma’s house?” you’ll probably get only a yes or no answer. But, to encourage your child to give more expansive answers, ask questions that lead to complex answers. For example: “Tell me about what you did at grandma’s house?” Even with a young child who is still mastering the basics of language, encourage him to practice his vocabulary by asking him questions that give him a choice, like “Do you want an apple or a banana?” or “Do you want to go to the playground or the grocery store?”‘

Trade stories.The ability to tell a story from start to finish is a key communication skill that takes years to master. Storytelling helps lay the groundwork for success in reading and writing. So practice these skills with your child — no matter how young. You can tell a story about what happened in your day, then ask your child to tell about her day. Even a brief two- or three-word description from your 2 year old about an event, such as eating ice cream, is great practice for a new talker. With your 4 or 5 year old, encourage her to share details, such as who she was with and what happened at the ice cream parlor. Don’t worry if events aren’t in chronological order. By 6 or 7, she should be able to order events correctly and give extra details.

Practice making predictions.Asking your preschool or elementary school child to predict what might happen in the future, and when and why, helps in developing narrative skills and language comprehension. Questions like, “What do you think will happen to your snowman when it’s warm out tomorrow?” prompts him to offer a prediction, and can help him grasp early scientific and investigative concepts.

Flip your child’s questions around. Yep, we’ve been there: “Mommy, why do bees sting?” “Mommy, how does an airplane fly in the sky?” “Mommy, why do I need to brush my teeth?” When you’ve answered your hundredth “why” question of the day, try flipping it around and asking your little one: “Why do youthink bees sting?” Sure, you might get some creative answers, but that’s what you want to encourage in your child’s language development.

Make sure everyone gets a turn.Sometimes one child (or parent) is a big talker and another is more the silent type. Give everyone a chance to talk by establishing some customs about how everyone has an opportunity to share his or her ideas. Let each family member have a turn talking about a certain topic, like the best part of the day. Practicing turn-taking allows children to pick up social conventions of language, including how we share ideas. It also gives your child a chance to work on fluency, or how smoothly he talks. These are skills a young child needs to spend a lot of time working on to develop successfully.

Let your child initiate conversation.We know we just told you to talk to your child, but sometimes silence is good, too. When you’re quiet (and there’s no TV or tablet on in the background), you give your child a chance to initiate conversation. You might be surprised by what she comes up with!


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Dr. Michelle MacRoy-Higgins and Carlyn Kolker are co-authors of the new book, Time to Talk: What You Need to Know About Your Child’s Speech and Language Development (Amacom 2017). Dr. MacRoy-Higgins is an associate professor in the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology at Hunter College in New York City. She has a BS and MS in speech-language pathology and a PhD in speech-language-hearing sciences. She has her Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC) from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), is licensed in New York State as a speech-language pathologist, and has worked as a classroom teacher. Dr. Michelle has evaluated and worked with hundreds of children ages 6 months to 10 years with their speech and language issues.

Carlyn Kolker is a writer who is raising two boys. Learn more at www.timetotalkbook.com. Follow us on twitter @time2taklbook and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/timetotalkbook/.