Baby Communication: From Baby Babble to Preschool Chatter
A Verbal Milestone
Parents eagerly await demonstration of nearly all developmental milestones. A child who appears on the brink of his first step is likely to take center stage over even the Big Game as parents run haphazardly to retrieve every conceivable recording device in the house.
Equally exciting is a child’s first word. We imagine days of long, thought-provoking conversations with our budding philosopher—or at a minimum, a coherent explanation for why there’s jelly all over the wall.
The reality of speech development is that while many other milestones are seemingly reached in short order, speech takes a bit longer to perfect. In fact, the challenge really is twofold: Parents must not only weather the time period when their children are learning to coherently pronounce words and form sentences, but they must also wait patiently as their children master the ability to communicate their thoughts and needs at a speed relative to that at which their brains are spinning.
Understanding what’s normal (albeit frustrating at times) and what’s not will help parents recognize when to seek help and when to simply take a few deep breaths and try again. These language milestones in Baby’s first year will get you started, but read on for age-by-age talking pointers.
Babies begin babbling around two months of age, and most parents—if they’re not too exhausted—are able to distinguish the difference between cries of hunger, pain, and pleasure. (Check out what first babbles sound like.)
By about six months, babies are usually quite pleased with the sounds they can make (not to mention the amount of saliva they can produce while making them). They can repeat single syllables and begin listening more intently to those around them.
By one year, most babies can follow simple instructions and should recognize their names when called. At this age, children are usually able to recognize and say a couple words, such as “mama” and “dada.” Some children may also be able to formulate additional words, such as “yes,” “no,” “more,” “eat,” or “bye-bye.”
No Words by One Year?
But, don’t be discouraged if your child is barely speaking at age one; children learn language at varying speeds. According to a study done by the University of Iowa, a typical 12-month-old child’s vocabulary may include as little as one word and as many as 40.
According to Katherine Cook, MS, CCC/SLP, an Illinois-based, speech-language pathologist, “Many children have quite a limited vocabulary by their first birthday, and this does not necessarily mean that they are delayed. Speech milestones are approximations, and there is a wide range of normal in the first nine to fifteen months.”
By the time they celebrate the end of their first year, with what is likely their first taste of cake, most babies begin making more obvious attempts to communicate specific needs. The frustration that can result when parents don’t respond exactly as the child wishes can be hard on everyone involved.
When should you worry? According to Cook, “If, by one year of age, a child doesn’t appear to know his name, isn’t babbling at all, or if parents believe their child’s overall speech and language skills are leap years behind those of their peers, a consultation with their doctor and/or a speech-pathologist or audiologist should ease their concern or confirm the need for intervention.”
One popular way to communicate with a child this young is through sign language. Notes Tracy Kunce, MS, CCC/SLP, a speech-language pathologist in the Chicago suburbs, “Sign language is a wonderful way to enrich the language environment and ease communication with little ones who aren’t speaking much yet.”
Parents can begin teaching a baby signs for common words such as “more,” “eat,” “sleep,” and “all done,” between four and six months of age. With consistent reinforcement, many children will begin using these signs between ages seven and 11 months to communicate their needs and desires. To this day, my sons, who are now three, remember the signs for “more” and “please.”
Two great books from which to learn more about this approach are Baby Signs: How to Talk with Your Baby Before Your Baby Can Talk, by Acredolo, Goodwyn, and Abrams, and Early Sign Language Basics: Early Communication for Hearing Babies and Toddlers, by Monta Briant. (Here, we’ve made baby signing simple. Check it out!)
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