The toddler years are notorious for being trying when it comes to communication. The greatest frustration parents experience is perhaps the feeling that their child can understand them but can't effectively communicate his needs in response.
A one- to two-year-old should be able to identify body parts and speak in two- to three-word combinations. He may not be able to voice his needs fluently, but he is usually able to figure out a way to get what he wants.
Continuing to use sign language during this time is not only appropriate, it might even prove quite beneficial. A toddler will be capable of far more signs than a baby, and while his pronunciation is developing, signs will assist in making hard-to-pronounce words easier to understand. Some parents worry that at this age, using sign language might hinder a child's speech development. Not true. Kunce reassures that "baby signs are not a replacement for speech; they actually help facilitate language development" and recommends that parents "always use words and signs together."
Though it may often appear otherwise, two- to three-year-olds should begin to understand the concept of taking turns and follow simple two-step commands. While it can be frustrating, it is also normal for them to repeat words or sounds in a sentence.
"The most common description for the repetition of a single word is 'stuttering,'" notes Cook. "It isn't correct to refer to the speech pattern in this way. Young children have a lot to say, and their mouths simply aren't able to keep up with their brains at this age, which results in what speech-language pathologists define as age-appropriate non-fluency."
The best way to approach a child of this age is with short sentences, preferably of no more than five to seven words. Additionally, avoid using the word "no" as much as possible. (Chances are your child is using it enough for all of you!) Use positive requests ("Please walk") instead of negative ones ("Don't run").
Finally, use short sentences that contain no more than two commands or requests. Asking your child to pat his head, rub his stomach, turn around, and then put his dishes in the sink will likely produce nothing more than a confused child who, in his frustration, bangs his head on the table, and then hurls his dish of spaghetti across the room.
When should you worry? If by three years of age your child's speech is not approximately 90-percent intelligible, or she is not pronouncing all vowels, be sure to speak with your child's doctor or a speech-language pathologist. And check out these other articles on speech issues: