Parenting is a skill we all learn on the fly. Unless you’ve studied early child development or logged in epic hours of babysitting preschoolers, very little of what we absorbed in our pre-parenting years prepares us for the unexpected surprises that come with raising a child.
So it’s natural to worry if you notice that your child remains mute while his same-aged cousin babbles on in complete sentences. it’s understandable you may have concerns when your toddler seems unintelligible while his classmates appear to articulate like budding orators. Yes, children reach developmental milestones at different rates…but how can you tell if your child has a speech delay?
Some kids just take a little more time to talk. Before you worry, first consider whether your child fits into one of these categories.
- Children raised in a bilingual household will often take a little longer to reach speech developmental markers due to the complexity of absorbing both languages. Later, they’ll likely have more verbal dexterity because of their bilingualism.
- Younger siblings of large families will often take their time becoming fluent, perhaps because their older siblings pipe up to speak for them.
- Research has shown that sometimes boys tend to take longer to develop fluent speech than girls.
- Hearing problems in children can affect speech and language development.
Speech Developmental Milestones
The first three years of life are when speech and language develop most intensely, so educators as well as speech-language pathologists hope to see children reach certain milestones by age three. Young children pass through critical periods of development when it comes to speech and language, so early detection and intervention is critical.
By age one, children should:
- Say “mama” and “dada” in reference to their respective mother and father.
- Imitate sounds they hear by babbling.
- Turn at the sound of your voice, and achieve rudimentary communication, such as through pointing or waving “bye”.
- Respond to one-word commands like ‘come’ or ‘up’
By age two, children should:
- Respond to simple commands and directions, like “where’s your toy?” or “Put it there.”
- Enjoy rhymes and songs, and point to some things you name in books.
- Make two-word sentences, like “more juice.”
- Continue to learn new words. Ideally, by 18 months, your child will know at least 20 words.
By age three, children should:
- Speak well enough to be understood by others beside you.
- Have names for most things.
- Use tougher consonants such as f, g, k, n, d, and t.
- Use three-word sentences.
There are multiple ways to help your young child develop his language and communication skills. Talk your way through the day so he or she will be exposed to lots of language. Read to your children, sing to them, and repeat familiar nursery rhymes.
If you feel, despite all your best efforts, that your child is not acquiring speech and language skills in locks-step with his peers, talk to your doctor about your concerns. They’ll likely recommend you to a speech and language therapist or a developmental specialist who’ll put you on the path toward certainty and treatment.