#287 11 Skills Toddlers Use Before Words Emerge – #9 Imitates Others



We’re continuing our series with the 11 skills toddlers must master before words emerge.

Today we’re talking about skill #9 – Imitates Others

On this episode, we’ll discuss the importance of imitation and the role imitation plays in teaching a toddler to use words.

Guess what?!? Learning to imitate doesn’t begin by telling a child, “Say ___.” There are several other steps before we hear a word!

When I discuss imitation with parents, many times they jump straight to helping a child learn to repeat words he hears. While imitating words is critical to learning how to talk, it’s not where we begin with a late talker, especially when earlier types of imitation are missing. Listen below: (The show # is incorrect below and I can’t edit it or it will mess up all kinds of things, but know that it IS the correct show!)

Listen here (or on iTunes) for how to make sure you’re not missing these important prerequisites.

Ways you can help a child learn to imitate:

  1. Show a child how to complete actions with toys and other objects throughout the day and wait expectantly for him to copy you. If he doesn’t, help him repeat your action. (Listen for ideas!)
  2. Model body movements for a child to imitate. Start with easy ones like running, jumping, marching, clapping, or swinging your arms. If a child loves music, introduce songs with hand motions.
  3. When a child can do these kinds of things, move to helping him make his body movements communicative. In other words, teach him actions that send a message. Try easy ones first like waving, blowing kisses, and shaking his head yes or no. You can also introduce simple sign language to bridge the gap while you’re waiting for those first words. Read here for more ideas about using signs with late talkers.
  4. Instead of jumping straight to words, help a child learn to imitate easier, earlier vocalizations such as sound effect noises while you play including fake coughing, panting, animal sounds, and car noises. Then move to fun words like “whee” or “wow” as you play and go about your day. Read more ideas here in this post: Help! and Let’s Make Some Noise

Remember… before a child can imitate words, he has to imitate actions and easier sounds first!

Ready for the next show? It’s right here!


If you’re working with a child who isn’t imitating and need a step-by-step guide for helping him learn to say words, I highly recommend my book Building Verbal Imitation in Toddlers. If you’re an SLP or another therapist and would rather take a full course on DVD (with continuing education credit!) outlining these strategies so that you can SEE how this looks with toddlers and preschoolers, I have one for you with this information Steps to Building Verbal Imitation Skills in Toddlers. 


If you’ve missed the earlier shows in this series, check them out below:

#275 Introduction Show – Why These Skills are Important

#276 Overview of Skills 1 – 5

#277 Overview of Skills 6 – 11

#278 Responds to Things in the Environment

#279 Responds to People

#280 Building an Attention Span

#281 Developing Joint Attention

#282 –  Developing Early Play Skills (part one)

#283 – Early Play  Skills (part two)

#284 Understands Gestures

#285 Understands What Words Mean (Follows Simple Directions!)

#286 Vocalizes Purposefully


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