What a happy moment for a mother to hear her baby’s first word. Yet, unfortunately for her, often times this first word isn’t ‘mommy’, it is ‘daddy’. There is a simple explanation: When mommy is taking care of the baby, she will use the word ‘daddy’ often. ‘Daddy is on his way home’, ‘There is daddy’, ‘Look daddy, see what the baby can do…’ The word ‘daddy’ is quickly followed by ‘mommy’, or something close to that. This is a great milestone and everybody is happy.
Just as in other areas of development, such as physical growth, motor skills and social skills, language develops differently for all children. Some children are already standing and walking at 9 months old and other children only start walking when they are 1.5 years old or later. The same goes for the development of language. However, it is possible that there are some issues that affect your child’s language development. As a teacher of children aged 4, 5 and 6, I notice that language deficits can best be addressed at as young an age as possible. That is why it is extremely important to observe your child closely. If you as a parent have doubts, do not be reassured by: ‘Oh, every child has their own pace’ or similar remarks. Have your toddler examined by a speech therapist on time, so that extra attention can be given as early as possible if this is necessary.
How to encourage your baby to talk
- Watch your baby closely, pay attention to his or her body language. Extended arms mean your baby wants to be picked up. When your baby reaches for something with his or her arm, it means that he or she wants to hold that toy. If your baby pushes the plate away, it is a sign of either a full belly, or a dislike of the food.
- Listen to your baby’s babbling, imitate this babbling and wait a minute to see; sometimes your baby will also imitate you.
- Let your baby’s eyes focus on your face, by making weird faces or by walking around while talking to your baby.
- Make weird noises to attract your baby’s attention.
- Reward your baby with cuddles when he or she makes noises.
- Spend a lot of time with your baby. You cannot spoil a baby by giving them a lot of attention.
At what age should a child start talking?
The following guidelines can help you make up your mind about whether or not your child’s language development is appropriate for his or her age. If your two-year-old is noticeably behind, it is not a bad idea to visit a speech therapist.
- 12 months: 1 to 3 words. Many babies this age are learning: ‘What does the cow say? Boo..’, ‘What does the cat say? Meow..’. These are not real words, but rather sounds.. Nonetheless, you as a mother or father will have no doubt about what your child is saying. Your baby will start understanding small assignments at this age; ‘Wave bye bye..’, ‘Do I get a kiss?’.. They will understand much more than they can pronounce.
- 18 months: Around 20 to 50 words, often nouns, such as; ‘baby’ or ‘cookie’; verbs such as; ‘sleep’, ‘go’, ‘eat’; prepositions such as; ‘up’, ‘down’; adjectives such as; ‘brrr cold’, ‘sweet’, ‘mine’; and social words such as; ‘da da’, ‘thanks’ and especially the word ‘no!’ which is very popular amongst toddlers….
- 24 months: Around 100 words for active use, but your toddler will have an understanding of around 300 words. Pronunciation is often unclear, but parents and siblings will often understand.
When do toddlers start forming sentences?
- 24 months old: 2 words that relate to each other are sometimes mentioned consecutively, for example: ‘Daddy home’ or ‘Baby eat’, ‘Doggy sleep’…
- 2 to 3 years old: sentences of 4 or more words. The conjugations of the verbs are often still incorrect. Mistakes are also made in speech if there are 2 successive consonants: ‘Stop’ will often be ‘top’… Phrases like: ‘I want to go to the sandbox’, or ‘Mommy where are you?’, will be said almost flawlessly when your child is about 3 years old.
- 3 to 4 years old: At this age your toddler will start asking questions: ‘Why are you leaving?’, ‘What is his name?’. There won’t be many pronunciation errors anymore, except when it comes to consecutive consonants. The conjugation of verbs will not yet be flawless. Your toddler will be able to share entire stories.
- 5 years old: By now you can have full conversations with your kid. He or she is now able to speak in both present and past tense. Prepositions such as: ‘On’, ‘under’, ‘by’ will not be a problem. Sentences of 5 words or more will not be a problem at this age.
What is a late talker?
A “Late Talker” is a toddler who has a broad understanding of words, who oftentimes has good playing skills and thinking skills, has age-appropriate motor development, is starting to develop social skills, but has a limited spoken vocabulary for his or her age. A “late talker” will be able to make up for the delay in language development in whole or in part through receiving special attention.
What to do if your child is a late talker
At first, the speech therapist or the doctor will consider a hearing issue. Does your child often have ear infections, or does he or she often have a cold? There is a good chance that this hearing issue can be corrected with a minor intervention. By offering a lot of extra language, it is possible to catch up on the backlog.
How to encourage your toddler to talk
What can you, as a parent, do?
- Speak clearly, repeat important words.
- Ask a question that offers two choices for an answer: ‘Do you want to wear your shoes or your boots?’ This way, you toddler has to use one of the two words to answer. Yet, if you were to ask: ‘Do you want to wear your boots?’, the answer would be ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
- If there are mistakes in pronunciation, do not correct your toddler, and definitely do not let him or her repeat the right word after you. Instead, repeat the entire sentence correctly, so that your child knows that you understand.
- Ask your child to help you. Doing dishes together is so much more fun than doing them alone. It probably won’t be quick, but it will provide ample time to chat. ‘I will wash that sharp knife, it is dangerous.’ ‘You can wash the large cup.’ ‘Is the water nice and warm?’ This way you engage in conversation, which is crucial for the development of language.
- You can give you toddler small tasks, no matter how young he or she is: ‘Will you grab your shoe?’, ‘Stand up, so I can put on your jacket’, ‘One arm, another arm.’ Talking like this ensures that your child is surrounded by language all day long.
- Look at and read picture books together. Repeat the crucial words several times. Also repeat the same book regularly, since children need repetition. You cannot do this often enough; looking at picture books and reading to your child is very important for the development of language skills.
- Pull up photos of experiences in you toddler’s life and let him or her talk about them.
- Say nursery rhymes and sing children’s songs. Through the rhythm and rhyme your toddler can quickly learn and participate.
- Play together and participate in ‘pretend’-games. For example, if you and your toddler build a house out of Lego Duplo, the following words will come up: ‘Many’-‘few’, ‘high’-‘low’, ‘small’-‘large’, ‘broken’, ‘sturdy’ and so on. During the ‘pretend-to-eat and cook’ game, completely different words are used: ‘Hot’-‘cold’, ‘heavy’-‘light’, ‘spoon’, ‘cutlery’, ‘cooking’, ‘baking’, and so on. Also see my blogs; Eating Tips for Toddlers and Top 5 Play Kitchens.
- You might enjoy checking out my Pinterest page. In the folder ‘IKEA Play Kitchen Hacks’ you will find several simple and beautiful play kitchens that you can create for and enjoy with your toddler.
- When grandma and grandpa visit, try to create moments when your toddler speaks to them directly. Let him or her tell them about what happened, or what he or she is about to do. It is so easy for your child to talk. I see that at school, where I teach: When the parents are there, a toddler will often let mom or dad do the talking, even though they are perfectly capable to speak for themselves when their parents are not around.
Is delayed speech a sign of autism?
Delayed speech is different to autism. Wikipedia describes delayed speech and autism as follows:
Speech delay, refers to a delay in the development or use of the mechanisms that produce speech.[ Speech – as distinct from language – is the actual process of making sounds, using such organs and structures as the lungs, vocal cords, mouth, tongue, teeth, etc. Language delay refers to a delay in the development or use of the knowledge of language.
Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by difficulties with social interaction and communication and by restricted and repetitive behavior.[ Parents usually notice signs during the first three years of their child’s life.
As you can see, these are two entirely different things. However, a delay in the development of speech /language is usually the first thing that is noticed in a child with autism. But beware: If your toddler has a delay in the development of language, it does not mean that he or she has a form of autism.
In case issues with the following things sound familiar, it is time to worry about autism:
- Did your toddler make very few noises as a baby?
- Did your toddler make very little eye contact as a baby?
- Does your toddler fail to react to soft or even loud noises?
- Did your baby start smiling around 6 months?
- Does or did your 14-month-old toddler point at interesting objects?
- Does your toddler hardly react when his or her name is called?
- Does or did your toddler not utter any word or anything resembling a word at 16 months?
- Did your toddler’s vocabulary diminish instead of improve?
In case this rings true, it is very important to get in touch with a pediatrician, to have a look and see what is happening in your child’s life. Even for a specialist it can be hard to diagnose autism at such a young age, but at least your child will get the extra care that is needed, and you will learn about the best way to help your child with his or her development.
Once again: A child can easily have a delay in language development without having autism!
List of 10 best picture books for the development of your baby and toddler
After all this important information on your child’s language and speech development, I end this blog with a list of good picture books that I have compiled. Reading books with your child and reading to your child will help prepare for future reading skills.
This lift flap book is for babies and young toddlers. It is fun for your child to lift the flaps and guess which animal is hiding behind them.
For very young toddlers this book with a 3D doggy is very interesting.
Two classics amongst picture books. These books should be in every child’s bedroom.
This beautifully illustrated book is the perfect way to let your child know you love him or her very much.
The following book is very endearing. A giraffe likes nothing more than dancing, but with its long legs this is very difficult. A friend steps in to help.
Every page of this book is a beautiful painting of an animal that is tired and goes to sleep: A great book to incorporate in your sleep ritual. See my blog How to get a toddler to sleep?
Cute babies are born every day. They are hugged, kissed and adored by the entire family: A fun and recognizable book for toddlers.
Mother Goose’s most treasured nursery rhymes. With six spreads of pop-ups and mini books, this book is a phenomenal family keepsake to read for years to come.