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Focus on Verbs to Boost Your Child’s Language & Communication Skills


“Mama,” “dada,” “milk,” “ball,” “kitty.”

This short list of nouns might resemble a toddler’s list of first words; however, as a toddler approaches 18 months and expands their vocabulary to include an average of 50 words, it will be critical for this list to start including verbs.

Verbs are necessary to form simple sentences. Action verbs help us clearly convey stories, ideas, and directions to others. Since every sentence needs a verb, providing a greater emphasis on action verbs while interacting with toddlers will provide an extra boost for language development. The period between 18-36 months is a period of rapid language growth and acquisition – follow the tips included below to teach your child a variety of action words and watch their language soar!

Model a variety of action words.

As you go about your daily routines, narrate your actions with specific verbs. The narration and consonant modeling seems excessive to adults, but it is SO beneficial to toddlers and young children.

Focus on noticing their behavior without questioning their behavior.

This strategy is called parallel talk. When we comment about a child’s actions, we map language to their current actions and focus of their attention. If your child is playing with blocks, you can use parallel talk strategies by making comments such as, “I see you stacking the blocks. You are building a tall tower! Oh no, the tower crumbled!”

Avoid asking too many questions.

When we ask a child “What are you doing?” as they quietly play (and when we certainly already know what they are doing!), we miss a critical opportunity to simply model the language related to their behavior. Modeling without the pressure for them to answer a question can boost their engagement and overall learning.

Replace “general all-purpose” verbs, such as ‘do,’ ‘put,’ ‘make,’ and ‘have,’ with more specific verbs that more appropriately describe the situation.

Instead of saying “I’m doing the dishes,”  try modeling “I’m washing the dishes,” or “I’m cleaning the dishes.” Instead of instructing your child to complete a task by saying “You do it,” try using the specific action you’d like them to complete (“Cut the paper,” “Open the bag,” “Stack the block,” etc.). The more often we use higher-level action words when speaking with toddlers, the more opportunities we provide for vocabulary learning.

Read books OFTEN!

This will help your child learn a variety of verbs in various sentence structures. You can always re-read a book many times to help your child solidify their learning of the vocabulary and verbs used in the book. After a child is familiar with a book, you can begin to ask simple questions or point the actions out in the pictures on the pages.

– Madelyn Boyles, M.S., CCC-SLP