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Tips for Teaching Toddlers the Names of Others

written by: Rebecca Mayglothling • edited by: Tania Cowling • updated: 4/5/2012

Use repetition, examples and nicknames to help toddlers learn the names of the people around them. Toddlers can learn to identify people by name using a few simple teaching techniques.

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    Busy Toddlers

    Toddlers are small people who are discovering a whole new world of mobility and freedom previously withheld by an inability to move. Many caregivers will joke that a baby transitions from rolling to running, because the excitement a toddler expresses in being able to move independently seems to happen quickly. Toddlers are increasingly independent with their newfound mobility, and they are also increasing in cognitive abilities. Little ones are quickly beginning to understand words have power. Toddlers and two year olds begin to utter one syllable words, and they find those utterances help them obtain desires from caregivers. At this point, you can begin to teach them to identify people by name.

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    Oral Development

    Toddlers are beginning to develop gross and fine motor skills throughout the body. This development includes the tongue and tongue placement. For this reason, toddlers mispronounce certain consonants, such as "f" or "v". Children do not understand the concept of using the mouth to form the letters; therefore they may use a "b" sound instead of the "f" or the "v", due to closing the mouth completely to imitate the sounds. Remember this when teaching a toddler a name. The toddler will not be physically able to create some consonant sounds until he is older. Repeat the sound and allow the toddler to view the sound being created, however, acquiring the proper sound from the toddler may require further fine motor development.

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    When an adult enters the room, address the adult with a short introduction, such as, "Hello Miss Heidi." Bend down to the child's level, address the child, and repeat the adult's name. "Kenny, can you say hello to Miss Heidi?" Ask the adult to bend to the child's level and smile at the child. When the child and adult are eye-to-eye, repeat the name with the child. If the child attempts the name, allow the child to speak then smile and allow the adult to reply. Encourage the child to shake hands with the adult. Do not force the child into conversation, as this will cause the child to lose interest in the lesson and create a barrier for learning. Repeat the name of the adult throughout future interactions, and refer to yourself using your own name so children will associate you with your name.

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    Shorten the Name

    Longer names may be shortened at the discretion of the adult in question. My name is "Rebecca." I taught toddlers and two year olds for years, and the students always called me "Becca." The shortening of my name helped my students pronounce and use my name in a manner consistent with their physical and cognitive development. "Rebecca" is three syllables; toddlers are just beginning to use two syllable words. Teach students the full name by clapping out the consonants to become "Re-bec-ca" as many times as necessary for learning, but be patient when students shorten longer names to conform to their beginning vocabulary and language ability. This simple shortening helps toddlers learn the name and will avoid frustration while learning. However, teaching the full name helps toddlers attempt the name and develop speech through scaffolding, or building on previous vocabulary knowledge.

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    Be Patient with Nicknames

    FileRubberDuckWearingNametag Some adults do not like nicknames, but toddlers may need to use nicknames to correctly address the adult. The above example, "Becca," is a nickname used for the ease of small mouths. If the toddlers create a nickname to substitute for a longer name or a difficult letter combination, be patient with this change. As the children age, their syllable use and pronunciation abilities will improve, and they will be able to use the full name. Names such as "Louisa" or "Johanna" will benefit from the childhood use of nicknames. "Louisa" may become "Lisa" and "Johanna" may become "Jo." Allow this to happen so children will become accustomed to addressing adults by a name. Learning the proper name will happen later when the child is physically and mentally able to grasp polysyllabic words and complex letter combinations.

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    Toddler Success

    Teaching toddlers requires patience, flexibility and repetition. Remember that young children are not mentally able to combine polysyllabic words past two syllables. Avoid frustration and learning roadblocks by shortening a name or allowing the child to create a personalized nickname. When a nickname comes from the mouth of a child, adults tend to mind less than if an adult used the same nickname. Don't forget to repeat, repeat, repeat and refer to adults by their names so children have as many chances as possible to associate the person with the name.