We have all noticed when Aunt Mary comes over how she begins talking to the kids in this high pitched, extra sweet voice that over enunciates every syllable that comes out of her mouth. The older kids begin to roll their eyes and find excuses to leave the room. The younger children, the toddlers and infants, in contrast, move closer and seem to pay more attention. What is happening here is important to us as parents as we help our children to develop language.
Everyone suggests you start talking to your child from day one. Babies are primed to learn speech. Make eye contact and speak with simple terms and yet expressive tones. Capture your baby’s attention and notice how they soon are cooing and babbling back at you. Watch those nonsensical cute words. Use words that the baby can understand. Using short utterances and repeating helps a child remember words. Remember that receptive language develops long before expressive language.
As your child develops, increase your level of communication as well. Talking “baby talk” to a toddler may sound nurturing, but too much of it will not add to her vocabulary. Be especially aware of the use of pronouns. Pronouns for young children are tricky. “Does Jimmy want another cookie” is fine for the baby. It helps teach Jimmy his name. For toddlers, it’s important to expose them to proper pronoun usage. Be patient, however, because figuring out that your “you” is actually my “I” may take a little time.
Here is a general “rule of thumb” for your child’s speech development.
6 months to 1 year:
Your baby should be recognizing words often used to meet basic needs. Words like “bottle” and “bye-bye” should provide a recognition response. This is a sign that your baby is developing her receptive language.
12 months to 24 months:
Your baby should be able to follow short demands or requests. “Jimmy, come over here,” or “Find your doll.” The concept of “no” is one that is often the first to be learned.
During this period of time parents should be pointing things out in the child’s environment and labeling them. “Ball, see the ball.” Facial features and body part are also important to label. “Show me where your nose is. Good! Now you say nose. Nose. Good!”
2 years to 3 years:
Your child should develop a vocabulary of somewhere between 200-400 words. By the end of his third year he should have a word for everything familiar in his experience. Also she should link two or three words together to express requests or describe items. By the end of this period of time your child should also be able to respond to a two level request. “Pick up your shoes and take them to your room.”
3 years to 4 years:
This is the time your child’s vocabulary really expands. Concepts such as future and past are understood. You can plan and sequence events. The child of four should correctly use “is” at the beginning of questions and be able to shift tenses and plurals. “We went (not go) to the store.” “My feet (not foots) are cold.”
5 years and older:
Children just prior to school should be able to rhyme words and recognize what words belong in a group. Like flowers are plants and a cat is a different kind of animal then a dog. By 6 years of age your child should be using irregular verbs and articles and prepositions correctly. Most 6 year olds can express full sentences that include going, doing, having. Their sentences include “a,” “the,” “are,” “an” as well as “to,” “of” and “in.” Preschoolers should be able to tell a fairly long story and answer question and explain why in their own words.
Finally, remember hearing is vital to speech development. If your child’s speech development is lagging or you have any concern about his/her response to your voice or sounds in the house, seek professional advice immediately. Keep in mind that articulation and stuttering may be slow to develop. Children have very individual rates of development surrounding these two aspects of speech. Be sensitive not to tease or ridicule slow speech skills. Increasing a young child’s anxiety or making him self conscious will not speed the process up and may just cause emotional harm.