Language Development Strategies in Toddlers With Older Siblings

by Julie Christensen

Lucky is the toddler who has an empathetic older sibling. An older child in the house can help parents entertain and teach little ones. When it comes to language development, though, having older siblings around has some drawbacks. Sometimes older siblings talk for a toddler or anticipate his needs so he isn't motivated to speak. Older children might also use slang words or colloquialisms that you'd rather your little one not say. Talk with older siblings about their role in teaching a younger child. In most cases, they can become valuable mentors once they understand what to do.

Play Games

Your toddler might not have patience for formal learning activities, but most little ones love fast-paced games. Teach your older children to play fun games such as "I Spy," with your toddler, suggests pediatric occupational therapist Dr. Anne Zachry. Play patty-cake or sing "Itsy, Bitsy Spider." Rhyming songs and chants teach young children vocabulary, rhythm and sentence structure.

Ask Questions

One way to encourage language development is by asking questions. Encourage older children to ask your toddler, rather than just giving him things. For example, instead of just handing a child a snack, ask, "Do you want some crackers or grapes?" Once toddlers begin to use words, they can answer with a yes or no, rather than simply gesturing, Zachry says.

Model Speech

Your older children likely find your toddler's speech errors adorable, but don't let them mimic or repeat inaccurate speech. Instead, suggested Zachry, use correct language and full sentences. When your toddler mispronounces a word, don't correct her, but simply restate the sentence for her to hear. Young toddlers can learn hand signs for basic words, such as snack, drink or more. These words can reduce frustration and even accelerate language development. Older siblings usually enjoy learning sign language and teaching it to younger siblings.

Set the Example

Little ones are quick to pick up inappropriate language from older siblings, especially if they get a lot of attention for saying those words. Try not to overreact when your toddler uses colorful language, but go to the source instead, suggests Jennifer Little, educational consultant and founder of Parents Teach Kids, an educational and academic support service for parents. "Parents need to be aware of what the older siblings are teaching the child," notes Little. "The expression, 'Little pitchers have big ears' applies."

About the Author

Julie Christensen is a food writer, caterer, and mom-chef. She's the creator of, dedicated to family fun and delicious food, and released a book titled "More Than Pot Roast: Fast, Fresh Slow Cooker Recipes."

Photo Credits

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