3 Tips When Teaching Your Child Their First Words

It’s funny… As a mama, many of us worry about our kids learning to walk and talk! However, as soon as both of these things happen, we sometimes wish we could go back to immobility and cute babbles. ANYWAY, I am going to run through some of my tips on teaching your child their first words. At least from the viewpoint of a behavior analyst and mama of 2.

Functional Language over Counting Words

Okay, I would MUCH rather a child have functional language than be able to say a million words that are arbitrary and meaningless. What do I mean by this?

  • If a child is able to get their needs met by saying, “Baba” for their bottle; this is functional language.
  • If a child can only say colors but they don’t mean anything in regards to getting needs met, this is not functional language.

When you are thinking about teaching your child ‘first words’, focus on words that will help get wants/needs met! This will help to reduce frustrations and also help with some of those terrible two tantrums that we ALLLLLL want to avoid later on :).

Avoid words like “More” and “Please”

I know what you’re thinking… Really? Don’t we want our kids to be polite? And really? Isn’t “more” like the STAPLE word taught in any early development classroom and all of the mommy blogs.

Okay, let me provide some reasoning here! When teaching words like “more” and “please” in the early stages of language development, they become very OVERUSED! Before you know it, these phrases stop becoming functional.

How often have you seen a young child and they are FRANTICALLY signing/saying ‘more’ but you have NO idea what they want more of? Yeah, the word stopped being functional. What do you want more of? More juice? More water? Maybe more crackers? Ahhhh, I have no idea? Now cue toddler tantrum and no one wants that!

The solution- Teach your child the specific word for items they want. So, teach them the word ‘water’. Instead of saying “More”, they can just say “Water!”. This results in a more independent child and less frustrations (on both ends).

Contrive moments to increase requests

Practice makes perfect, right? If you want your cutie to work on saying their favorite things, set up occurrences to make it happen.

If your cutie is thirsty, give them their sippy cup with just a little bit of water in it. After they are done with a sip of water, they will probably want more. When the cup is empty, there is a good chance they will request for more.

Perfect, your plan is working beautifully!

In this situation, you can say, “What do you want?”

Hopefully, the little cuties response should be, “Water!” because they are still thirsty! Keep up with this until you don’t have to prompt with the, “What do you want?”

The goal: Your child will spontaneously ask you for water. With enough trials, this will happen.

Which brings us full circle.

Once your cutie becomes a fully talking child, you will wonder why you were so worried about them saying their first words. Because now they never stop talking, haha! But trust, every mother goes through this.

For now, excuse me while I go get my child her 90th snack that she spontaneously requested (insert face palm). Did I mention I too was worried about her speech when she was younger… Sigh!

“Good mothers are the ones who worry about being a good mother!” – Unknown




Barbera, M. L. & Rasmussen, T. (2007). The verbal behavior approach. Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. ISBN: 9781843108528.



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