Car Games for Late Talkers…Great Ways to Maximize Your Commute with Your Late Talker

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Moms of late talkers frequently email me some version of this question…

“We spend lots of time in the car, especially waiting for my older children to be released from school and other activities. Do you have any ideas I can use during that time with my toddler who is not talking?”

Yes I do! Here’s my list of…

Car Games for Late Talkers

My BEST strategies for targeting language in the car with late talking toddlers are EASY. Start with this one…

1. Listen, listen, listen!!

Some late talkers are more vocal in the car than anywhere else. Maybe it’s the movement of the vehicle, maybe it’s the chaos of the older kids that provoke a toddler’s attempts to talk, or maybe it’s the one time of the day that a child who is always on the go is still enough for you to notice that he is beginning to try to talk!

No matter what the reason, listen!

What’s he trying to say?

If it’s a word you can make out, repeat it! Recognize and reinforce those early attempts. For example, if he says, “bu” when you’re parked beside the bus, say, “BUS! There’s the bus! You like that song about the bus. Wanna sing about the bus?” The launch into your best version of “Wheels on the Bus.”

If you can’t make out what he’s trying to say, but you think you know his intent, go with it! Give him the words he needs. For instance, if he sees his brother coming and starts to jabber, say “Hi! There’s (brother’s name). Here he comes! Hi (name)! Hi!!!”

If you don’t have a clue what he’s trying to say, that’s alright too. Many times late talkers are doing what other toddlers did at younger ages… practicing! They’re not really saying any true words yet, but they’re getting ready by vocalizing and practicing sounds and sound combinations. When this happens, say whatever it is that you think she might want to say, or use the next idea which can be super successful…

2. Imitate and Wait!

This strategy can be very powerful for toddlers who are usually quiet.

Whenever she makes a sound, copy her. Try to match her in every way you can – the same sound, same volume, and same intonation – as closely as possible.

Imitate her and then…


And wait.

And then wait some more.

Experts say that you should allow at least 10 seconds before offering a new sound with a late talker. Here’s why… late talkers often need more time to hear a sound, plan to say it, and then finally, to say it. Think about it this way… if imitating sounds were easy for them, they would already be talking. For whatever reason, it’s not. So we have to give them extra time. If we move ahead too soon, we cut them off before they’re ready.

Ten seconds can feel like an eternity for chatty-patty moms — and especially for super chatty SLPs! I, Laura Mize, a speech-language pathologist with almost 25 years experience, also have a problem waiting.

Sometimes I have to press my lips together as a reminder to keep my mouth shut while I wait. When it’s really hard, I count silently… 1 Mississippi…2 Mississippi…3 Mississippi… (an ode to my childhood home…)  

No matter how hard it is, waiting for her next sound is exactly what you need to do to entice a late talker to make another sound.

Let me add that waiting here is much different from waiting when a toddler has said nothing. (More about that difference in another post…)

If, after about 10 full seconds, she doesn’t try again, then repeat the sound she made or another one she can do and then…(you guessed it) wait some more.

Don’t just wait. Wait expectantly. Lean forward, widen your eyes, raise your eyebrows, and maybe even let out a little gasp.  Act like you know your child is going to say something. Granted, this is not as effective when a toddler can’t see you, but if you make this a habit when you are face-to-face, it will work, even when a child can’t see your face!)

You will be surprised at how these simple changes can make a big difference. It may take a little while to get going, but imitating and then expectantly waiting, will help many late talkers begin these fun little vocal duos with you.

3. Begin a Turn Taking Game of Your Own

A similar strategy is initiating a turn taking exchange, but not with words unless the child is already talking pretty well. Here, you’ll begin the routine with something you know the child can say. The cool part is, it doesn’t have to be a word.

Can your child fake cough? Try that! Here’s how…


Briefly check to see if your child is listening and watching, then cough again.


Cough again. Maybe this time, clear your throat too. Or cough bigger.

Try it several times before moving on to a new sound.

BUT… if he imitates the cough, keep it going! See how many rounds you can get in before one of you drops out.

Then try a new sound… like an animal noise she can already do. Or a whine. Or a loud grunt. Fake cry. Pant. Pretend to sneeze. Click your tongue. Make kissy noises. Or even let out a little scream.

The key here is to get a toddler to be NOISY and TAKE TURNS.

Both of those foundational skills are extremely important for late talkers, and now you’ve given yourself a new way and a new time to work on them!

I’ve got some other car games for late talkers who are just beyond this phase. Here’s part 2:

Car Games Part 2



Can’t wait until then for ideas? My first DVD Teach Me To Talk will teach you how to get started!


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