Routines – Mealtimes

Everyone must eat multiple times a day. It would be amazing if the family had at least one meal per day where everyone eats together. Children learn by watching and they want to eat more when the adults are having the same foods they are. Sometimes it’s the cafeteria phenomenon: everyone else’s meal looks better than yours. One way to help children build good eating skills is to put some of their food on your plate and you put smaller pieces of your food on theirs during the mealtime. A healthy diet in children starts with good practices modeled to them by parents and caregivers.

The adult’s role in mealtime is to present the options. You can also dictate when mealtimes will be. It’s best not to let your child graze or fill up on empty calorie foods. Building healthy habits will prepare them for school where grazing won’t be available. Children need to learn when to eat and when to play.

Your child’s role is to choose how much to eat and when they are full. We want to teach them at an early age to listen to their bodies. When they are hungry, they can eat more. When they are full, they get to stop. You can save it for later, have them help you put it aside. We want to consistently train them early on not to throw food away. Teach them to say “all done” or “no more.” Teach them to set their plate aside and wait for you to take them out of their high chair. You can take the plate and teach them to wipe the area, face, and hands when they are done. This teaches them there is a clear ending to mealtime. This also helps with transitions to another activity. Pick your clean up routine and stick to it. Make it a game. Be consistent.

Meals and snack times are a good chance to talk about food. Here are some ideas to build in language exercises when they eat. Since we want to avoid children talking too much while eating, it is a good time to build receptive language and vocabulary.

Taste Words:

  • Sweet
  • Salty
  • Bitter
  • Yummy
  • Umami (that yum flavor)
Texture Words:

  • Chewy
  • Mushy
  • Soft
  • Crunchy
  • Fibrous
  • Gummy
  • Sticky
  • Paste
  • Lumpy
  • Smooth
  • Burnt

Talk about the food. Tell them what you like about the taste in your mouth and why it is good for them. You can talk about vitamins and minerals and how eating healthy foods will make them big, tall, and strong.

Name the foods on the plate and categorize them. You have fruit, vegetables, meats, dairy, legumes, etc. Talk about color. Invite them to nod along or discuss the meal with you.

Take sips of water between bites to prevent choking. Teach them to chew first, swallow, then talk and demonstrate this to them so they understand. This will teach them the concept of first… then. It will also teach them to wait, take turns, and hopefully will be a bonding experience because you are doing a shared activity.

Routines – Going Outside

You can do so much while on walks with your toddler. There is so much to observe outdoors even if you are just walking around the block. Ask lots of questions. There are open-ended questions or close-ended questions; questions that have just one answer.

Examples of open–ended questions:

  • What do you see?
  • Where do you think we’re going?
  • Where do you want to go?
  • What would you like to do outside?
  • What do you want to bring outside?

Examples of closed–ended questions (Yes / No questions)

  • Can you find the green car?
  • Can you find your shoes?
  • Did you see the squirrel?
  • Do you want to go to the park?
  • Do you want to go to the backyard?
  • Do you want to play with water?

Depending on where your child is expressively, you may have to mix it up a bit sometimes. If your toddler has a good imagination and can tell you lots of things, then open-ended questions are great. Let them explore and tell you what they are seeing. Let them name things for you. If your child cannot seem to answer questions well, we might have to scaffold (support them and make things easier). That is where close-ended questions come into play. Asking yes/no or even giving two choices takes some cognitive load off your toddler. If you ask them, “where do you want to go today?” They might not know where to start with that answer. But if you give them a choice, “Do you want to go to the park or walk around the block?” That allows them to choose but they have a couple of suggestions.

You can teach lots of different concepts when you are outside.

  1. Teach adjectives by playing I Spy.
    1. I spy something green. They have to guess what’s green. Maybe grass, maybe a bush.
    2. I spy something tall. Maybe a tree, maybe the building.
  2. Teach kids part / whole concepts.
    1. A tree has branches, and leaves, and a trunk.
    2. A car has a door, and wheels, and windows.
  3. Teach children to anticipate what’s next.
    1. Where do you think we’re going?
    2. Which way should we turn? (if on a very familiar path).
  4. Another way to teach adjectives is just to describe the things you see along your walk.
    1. That rock is bumpy / smooth.
    2. That grass is long.
    3. That tree is big.
    4. That dog is small.

I hope you can enjoy time with your toddler outside. Fresh air is great for everyone.

Supporting Emotional Growth

This has been a trying time for lots of people here in the US, and also around the world. Emotions and processing emotions is difficult for a child. You continue to develop emotional skills into adolescence. There are a lot of things that you can do for your toddler to help and understand their developmental stage. Toddlers are at the stage where they are discovering a sense of self. At this stage, what they seek is validation for their emotions and in doing so, you help them process.

We sometimes see behavioral issues when children get overwhelmed. Here is what to watch for and what you can do about it.

Things to watch for:

  1. Overly needy behaviors – not wanting to leave your side, crying, tantrums
  2. Perking up to a various sensory inputs – being startled by sirens or the phone ringing
  3. Eating more – Sometimes children soothe by putting things into their mouths. They might crave more food at this time.
  4. Decrease in attention – Children can be easily distracted when they are anxious and might not be able to concentrate as well.
  5. Sleep disturbances – Children may have a harder time sleeping or sleeping through the night.

What can you do:

  1. Stay calm – Those mirror neurons work both ways. If you show anxiety, they will also feel that. But if you are calm, you can be a regulating force for them.
  2. Play calm music – Slower music with a slower beat can calm the heart rate.
  3. Talk through those feelings – What did you hear? A police siren? That was loud, huh? Sometimes loud noises can make us scared. But you’re safe with mommy/daddy.
  4. Keep them busy – Allow for longer bath time to supplant some of that sensory stimulus with something soothing. Play with playdoh (also a tactile activity). Have snacks around for when they need to soothe by eating.
  5. Trust your gut – You have intuitive ways that you’ve calmed your child before. Use all of those methods. You are their parent, you are important in their world and you have innate skills that come to you. Trust those instincts. As long as you remain calm, you’ll model how to do that for your child.

What does a Speech–Language Pathologist (SLP) do?

Speech – Language Pathologists are experts in rehabilitation or habilitation of speech and language skills as well as feeding and swallowing. We work with a variety of issues and all populations. It’s important to find the right therapist because we tend to become proficient in some areas and not others. Here is a mostly comprehensive list of focus areas for SLPs:

  • Articulation – sound distortions
  • Childhood Apraxia of Speech – motor delay with speech production
  • Cleft palate speech
  • Accent modification – speak more like a native English speaker
  • Tracheotomy speaking
  • Language disorders – difficulties with using sentences for conversation or difficulties with understanding what you’ve heard
  • Developmental delays – late talking children
  • Literacy – reading
  • Central auditory processing disorders – unable to decipher what you hear when you have perfect hearing
  • Feeding issues – picky eating, g-tube feedings, sensory eating
  • Tracheotomy feeding
  • Cleft palate feeding
  • Aphasia – lose your language post stroke
  • Dementia
  • Adult apraxia
  • Autism
  • Genetic disorders as it relates to speech and language
  • Deaf & hard of hearing – signing, lip reading, cochlear implants
  • Voice disorders – vocal nodules, raspy voice
  • Transgender voice

If you have a concern that your baby is not picking up on some things like other children their age, talk to your pediatrician to see if an evaluation is right for you. If your child is school aged, you can talk to their classroom teacher to see if an evaluation would help.

Talk to your primary care physician if you find yourself unable to communicate effectively or if you find yourself forgetting or getting tired when talking a lot. Talk to me if you have any specific questions about any of these issues. We’re all here for you!

11 Skills Toddlers Master Before Words Emerge

I love this chart of preverbal skills that lay the foundation for talking (from Let’s Talk About Talking at It reminds me all the things that a baby has to learn before they start using words to tell you their wants and needs. 85% of communication is nonverbal. Think about your facial expressions, tone of voice, and gestures. My favorite column is “Beginning Strategies.” These suggestions of activities to do with your preverbal baby are a great place to start.

Skill How This Looks Why It’s Important Beginning Strategies
Skill #1: Reacts to events in the environment Child consistently reacts to things he sees, hears, and feels. Responding is the foundation for interacting and communicating. Help a child learn to use his senses to explore things in his/her world. Offer new experiences often. Use toys the child can look at, listen to, hold, mouth, and explore.
Skill #2: Responds to people when they talk to or play with him or her Child enjoys being around other people and responds to them consistently. Communicating always involves at least two people. When kids don’t respond, it’s one-sided. Don’t let a child ‘check out’ or be alone for long periods. Give him a reason to include you – look and sound FUN! Position yourself so he will make eye contact. Do what he likes as you play, play, play together! Prioritize and reward interaction.
Skill #3: Takes turns with you during interactions Child participates in extended back & forth exchanges with others. Turn taking is how all of us become interactive and conversational. Treat his actions as if they are purposeful toward you. Play trading games with everyday objects & toys. Join in and take a quick turn while he’s playing with toys so you’re included.
Skill #4: Develops a longer attention span Child stays with an activity for at least 5 minutes alone and even longer with adults. Attention is the “gate-keeper” for learning anything new, especially language. Warm up before any teaching activity. Movement activities help most toddlers begin to pay attention. Start with interesting activities. Limiting screen time helps many toddlers attend longer. Try the “One More” rule to extend attention.
Skill #5: Shifts and shares joint attention with others Child shifts his attention between an object and you while you’re sharing the same focus. Kids learn to understand words and talk by listening to the important things other people want to share. Place yourself within a child’s line of vision. Teach a child to show, hold, and give you objects during daily routines. Play games to teach him to look for you and look at what you’re talking about. Point and gesture often to direct his attention.
Skill #6: Plays with a variety of toys appropriately Child plays well with many different toys and uses familiar objects in everyday routines. Children learn almost everything through playing. When they don’t, they miss opportunities for language. Plan to “play” and “stay” with a child to show him what to do with a toy and guide him as he learns. Get face-to-face on the floor. Provide a variety of toys with various motor actions. Teach cognitive concepts. Limit self-stim triggers when alone.
Skill #7: Understands early words and follows simple directions Child completes many different requests consistently. A child must understand words before he or she can use those words to talk and communicate. Stay together so that a child can link meaning with what you say. Keep your language simple and narrate daily events. Use “Tell him, show him, help him” cues. Teach a child to “do his part” during daily routines. Try deconstruction first.
Skill #8: Vocalizes or makes sounds purposefully Child is noisy and gets your attention by using his or her voice. No one learns to talk until he or she can produce sounds intentionally. Rather than words, model lots of play sounds. Imitate any sounds he makes. A child may need to “rev up” before he can vocalize. Change your space or materials to get new results.
Skill #9: Imitates actions, gestures, sounds, and words Child copies what he sees and hears other people do and say. Toddlers learn to talk by repeating what other people say. Don’t start with words! Begin with actions, gestures, and easier sounds before expecting a child to imitate words. Set the stage with expectant waiting for imitation.
Skill #10: Uses early gestures like waving and pointing Child communicates with you nonverbally. In typical development, gestures emerge just before toddlers begin to say words. Use lots of gestures as you talk. Teach a child to imitate easy whole body movements first like jumping and dancing, and then early gestures like reaching, “Give Me 5,” waving, and shaking his head “no” before teaching a toddler to point.
Skill #11: Initiates interaction with others to get needs met or to play Child deliberately works to get your attention to meet his or her needs. We can’t depend on other people to approach us or know what we want. Make the shift from initiator to responder. Look for when a child “almost” initiates and teach him to expand. Set up opportunities for a child to request using sabotage.
© Laura Mize, M.S., CCC-SLP


Hi, my name is Jeanne Yee. I’ve been a speech-language pathologist for over ten years. I’ve worked in schools, hospitals, private clinics, and now I provide therapy to children enrolled in early intervention services, a state run program for developmentally delayed children from birth to three. My expertise is treating children from birth to twelve, but I have a range of experience in treating children of all different ages.

As a resource for new parents who might be wondering if their child is progressing at a good pace, I will be posting activities for you to do with your children at various ages (OR as they grow older). I’ll also post about frequently asked questions that I get from my families.

Parenthood can be daunting for many, and you might feel like you should “have it all figured out.” But I’m here to tell you don’t have to know everything. There are a wealth of resources out there, albeit some good some bad. I hope to help you wade through the plethora of info and provide you with resources that I’ve found helpful after a decade of trial and error.

Please feel free to reach out to me with questions or comments about anything I post.

Disclaimer: All children are different. What works with one family might not work for you. I hope to problem-solve with you to come up with activities and suggestions that would work for you and your family. I am not a medical doctor, and I cannot diagnose your child. However, I can point you in the right direction to help you find answers to your questions.