Don’t Say “Say”: Toddler Speech Delay Exercises

Don’t Say “Say”: Toddler Speech Delay Exercises


Parents who are interested in getting their toddler with a speech delay to learn to speak often try to get them to repeat what they say by saying “say…” For example, “say more” or “say mama.” Yet, when we try to prompt a toddler in this way, we are teaching them to repeat or parrot us, but not to communicate. So what type of toddler speech delay exercises are best to get your child to talk? Read on for some strategies that speech therapists use all the time. There is also a video below on how to use “cloze sentence” (or, “fill in the blank”) tasks.


  • “You can say _____”: Instead of saying “Say more!”,” give your toddler a model of what they can say. For example, “You can tell me, gimme more” and then continue. This gives them a model and doesn’t create a situation where you are “forcing” them to say something to get something. This can be frustrating for a speech-delayed child who just wants to get what they want. You are also not using confusing phrases like “use your words,” which any toddler might have a hard time understanding.  Keep your verbal prompt short and sweet and move on with the activity.
  • “Let’s tell him/her/it…” If you and your child are playing with a stuffed animal or doll or there is another person involved in play, you can involve the third party in the conversation. Instead of saying, “Say go!” try saying, “Let’s tell him to go! Ready? Go!” You and your toddler are now on the same team and it becomes a game instead of a command.
  • Use Cloze Sentences/Fill in the blank (then wait): Giving a child a prompt and then waiting and looking expectantly for a communication intent is very powerful. A common verbal routine that many parents use anyway is to fill in the blank in phrases like “1, 2 ,3 ___” or, “Ready set ____!” and then waiting expectantly for them to reply. You can also make eye contact with your child to prompt them to communicate. This tells your child that it’s their turn to say something. You can wait 5-10 seconds (hard, we know!). If your child has not said anything, you can say the whole sentence and then move on.  Try again on the next turn and during other opportunities throughout the day.


Watch the Video to Learn Toddler Speech Delay Exercises:



Communication with others in not just about saying words. It is also knowing when and how to use language to share our internal world with those we want to be close to. Parents can teach their kids the power of language and communication at home by integrating the strategies speech therapists use all the time.


RELATED ARTICLE: 7 Ideas for How to Help a Child with Speech Delay


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