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12 to 24 months: how to help your child's communication

You can help your toddler’s communication through playing, cuddling and talking with them.

Watch videos from the HSE on helping your child’s communication

Play with your toddler

Join your toddler’s play on the floor. Through play, toddlers try out new skills and explore their imagination and creativity. They also learn about relationships with other people.

Follow their lead

Follow your toddler's lead when playing. Babies and toddlers only learn from interactions they are interested in.

If you follow their lead and react to their words and actions, you will notice a difference in how they respond to the play.

Watch a video on following your child’s lead

Be at their level

Try to get face to face with your toddler whenever you can. They will love looking at your face and facial expressions as you talk.

Give your toddler time to respond

Pause after you speak. Waiting just a few extra seconds for your toddler to respond can be very powerful. This encourages them to start interactions and keep interactions going.

Watch a video on giving your toddler time to respond

Repeat words

Repeat words to help your toddler understand what they mean. Toddlers love repetition. For example, “a sandwich... This sandwich is sandwich is gone.”

Watch a video on using repetition

Use comments, not questions

Use simple comments to describe everyday moments. For example, “That’s the car” or “we’re changing your nappy”.

Your toddler can get overwhelmed by too many questions. Using comments is a great alternative.

Watch a video on turning questions into comments

Help them use longer sentences

Help your toddler to use longer sentences by building on the words they use.

When they use one word, repeat that word and add on another word or two. For example, “doggie... doggie is running” or “moo.... the cow says moo!”.

Watch a video on building on your toddler’s sounds and words

Give your toddler choices

Offering your toddler a choice between two items lets them know that they have a say.

It also lets them know that their voice is heard. It makes it easier for them to understand what you are asking of them.

Watch a video on giving choices

Use actions with your words

Using actions with your words makes it easier for your toddler to understand your words. It also gives them more ways to communicate with you.

Make sure to use the same gesture with the same word each time.

Examples of actions you can use:

  • wave when you say “bye bye”
  • shake your head when you say “no”
  • show size with your hands when you say "big" or "small"
  • lift your arms up when you say "up"
  • put your hands under your head like a pillow when you say “bedtime”

Watch a video on using actions

Give “it” a name

Instead of saying “there it is”, you could say “there’s the ball” or “there’s the bubble”. This will help them to become familiar with a range of specific words.

Give them a reason to talk

Create chances for your toddler to talk. This is a great way to encourage communication.

For example, give them a yogurt without a spoon. Situations like this create a need for your child to communicate. They may communicate with a look, a word or a sound. Or they may reach or point.

You can suggest the words your child might say, such as “Mama open” or “more bubbles”.

Your child does not need to repeat the words. They are learning them through hearing you say them.

Speak slowly and clearly

Speak slowly and clearly when talking to your toddler. This is so that they can hear the sounds at the beginning, middle and end of the words. This will help to develop their speech sounds.

Limit background noise

Turn the TV and radio off when playing and talking with your toddler. Too much background noise is difficult for toddlers to filter out. It is easier for them to focus on your words and actions when it’s quiet.

Stay calm when they’re being challenging

Staying calm will help your toddler to learn how to deal with emotions. Use a calm voice. The slow pace will help your toddler become calm faster.

Use simple words to describe their feelings. This will help them to gradually understand and talk about their feelings. For example, “Oh teddy fell. You feel sad”

Toddler temper tantrums

Activities to try

Ideas to help your baby's communication include:

Songs and nursery rhymes

Sing songs and nursery rhymes with your toddler. Repeat the same songs so that your toddler can become familiar with the rhythm and words.

“This little piggy went to the market...” is a fun rhyme to sing during nappy change or after bath time. When your toddler starts using their first words, try pausing before the last word of the rhyme for your toddler to fill the blank! “A tissue, a tissue, we all fall…”


Most toddlers enjoy books with a lot of pictures, simple stories or about their favourite characters. Follow your toddler’s interest in the book - this may involve describing the pictures instead of reading the story.

Books provide lots of opportunities for your toddler to hear and learn new words. By reading to your toddler you will create a love for books.

Reading with your baby

Watch a video on how reading books helps your child’s communication skills

Mystery bag play

Gather a few items from around the house and put them in a bag. Ask your toddler to feel the items while they are in the bag. See if they can guess what they are. This gives you a chance to talk about them together.

Describe each item (“this is round…it is quite soft”), then build up some excitement as you slowly take one of the items out of the bag (“it’s an…orange!”)

You will find there are lots of useful words that you can repeat during this game like “empty” “again” and “good waiting!”

Post-box game

Make a post-box by cutting a hole in a shoe-box. Your toddler will have lots of fun posting items in the post box and then taking them back out again. Name each item as it is posted.

Water play

Use a bowl, box, or baking tray with a little water. This is good for sensory play. Put some toys and sponges in the water.

You will find lots of opportunities for repeating words such as “splash”, “squeeze” and “quack quack”.

You could add cornflour and food colouring to the water to make gloop. This is great sensory fun and gives you a chance to repeat words such as “sticky” “gooey” and “stuck”

Putting towels on the ground can help make clean-up easier.

Watch on video on how reading books helps your child’s communication skills

Speak your native language

Talk to your child in the language you are most comfortable with.

This will

  • support their understanding and talking
  • give them the skills to learn other languages more easily, including. English

You and your partner may use different languages at home. But children can adapt to different languages quickly.

Limit screen time

Screens can be smartphones, gaming devices, tablets, computers and televisions. Try to limit screen time to under 1 hour a day for 18 to 24 month olds. It is not recommended for children under 18 months to have any screen time.

Watching too much on screens at an early age can have a negative impact on language development, physical development and sleep. It can take time away from special interactions with your toddler that are important for speech and language development.

Video calls with family and friends are an exception to this, as this involves back and forth interaction.

Screen time and young children

Watch a video on how to make the most of screen-time with your child

Limit soothers

Try to limit your toddler’s use of soothers, especially when they are awake.

Using a soother for a short time can help babies and toddlers to become calm. But too much use of a soother over several hours each day can lead to problems with your child’s teeth and affect their speech sounds.

Page last reviewed: 29 March 2023
Next review due: 29 March 2026