How early do children use speech/language to communicate? What sort of milestones should I look for?
Between birth and 3 months old, your baby should be smiling and interacting with others using cooing sounds. They begin to babble around 4 months of age, using sounds in the back of their throat and early consonants /p, b, m/. Imitation of sounds, faces, and gestures is important throughout 7-12 months of age. They are also starting to turn when their name is called and look at/for objects named by others. The sounds and combinations your child makes should continue to become more complex leading to the production of their first words.
Children start to form words around 12 months of age.
By 18 months, they are using 10-20 words. They are able to follow simple directions at this time and starting to point to pictures you name in books.
Around 2 years of age, your child’s vocabulary should have increased and he/she is now putting together two-word phrases. You and others should be able to understand 50-75% of what your child says around 2 – 2 ½ years old. They should continue to make more complex sounds in the beginning and ending of words, such as /k, g, f, t, d, n/.
Your child is now more social with others and should be talking and playing with other children between 2-3 years old. He/she can also start to answer simple questions.By age 3, your child will be telling you their ideas/stories and using 3-4 words sentences. They are also interested in books and drawing. These are important precursors to reading and writing skills.
What can I do to help my child with speech/language?
Talk with your child from the very beginning, narrate what you are doing and start to talk about what they are doing. Responding to an infant’s movements, smiles, and sounds reinforces the give-and-take of communication and their “power” to communicate with you (Think of all the funny things you do when talking to a baby to get them to respond.)
Play with your child. You are the best toy to start with; then, make a toy out of anything that they are eager to explore. You don’t need the toys with all the bells and whistles. In fact, removing the batteries from toys will allow you to be the “voice” of the character which will make them more interested and possibly imitate. Using objects around the house that they see every day will encourage their creativity as well as self-help skills.
Read with your child, begin at infancy. It is never too early to start reading to your child! What books and how you read them will evolve from books with colors/contrast, photographs, and look/feel to picture books with simple text to stories. As your child gets older, you will start to ask them more questions to find out what they understand and start to encourage prediction.
Repeat what you “think” your child is saying. If you can’t understand your child, repeat what you think he/she is saying, even if it’s something they want but you aren’t going to give them. For example, if a child says “cookie”, parents may respond “Not till after dinner.” The child may feel misunderstood and repeat their request. Rather, repeat “cookie” to affirm your understanding, provide the limitation “Not until after dinner.” They may be frustrated being denied their request but not because you don’t understand them.
Modeling – Model the correct sounds within words. When your child mispronounces something try to repeating the word as it should be so your child hears the correct production. It is good to avoid asking your child to keep repeating information or telling them “say___.”
What if I still have concerns?
Talk with your child’s doctor or contact a speech/language pathologist. Pediatric Interactions has resources and offers free developmental screenings and can make a referral or give you more suggestions.