Toddler Primer — Working With Birth-to-Three Clients

By Pam Marshalla

95012267_82b71b9e5a_mQ: I am working with toddlers for the first time after a 10-year career with elementary school children. They are different! Can you guide me?

This is what I would tell a graduate student––

With a toddler, the most important thing to change from therapy with older children is that you have to STOP trying to get him to do what you want him to, and you have to START doing what he is doing.

In other words, stop saying, “Can you say…?” and start simply imitating everything he says spontaneously.

As you do this more and more, he will begin to take turns saying words back-and-forth with you.  Then you can begin to play with sounds and words in the turn-taking game that is so critical to the development of imitation skills.  Once he can play the turn-taking game then you can begin to tell him to say things.  But this might take a while so be patient.

Second, you are not trying to correct him as you would be with older children. You are trying to stimulate him to say lots of things.  Therefore there are no correct and incorrect ways to say anything.  There are just words, words, and more words. Play with a wide variety of sounds– environmental and animal sounds, vowels, diphthongs, and consonants.

Third, do not assume that B, or M, or W will be the first to emerge.  I have seen kids whose first consonants were R, S, L, Th, Sh, and F.  Ignore the developmental guidelines on sound emergence.  Stimulate them all.

Remember that every child takes his or her own path of development and your job is to figure out how THIS PARTICULAR CHILD is developing.  Figure out what grabs his attention and do that.  And don’t expect him to stay on task for very long.  Don’t fall into the trap of saying, “He will only work for 5 minutes.”  He should only work for 5 minutes. That is normal.  Go with the flow.  Follow his play lead and, over time, get him to do one more, and then one more… and then one more.  Stretch out his on-task learning time.

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