Baby Communication: From Baby Babble to Preschool Chatter
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:
- Top Toddler Speech Problems
- The Late Talker: When to Worry and What to Do
- When Your Child Stutters: Trouble Getting the Words Right
By three to four years of age, children should understand common verbs and adjectives, and should comprehend when/where and yes/no questions. A preschooler’s average sentence length should be four to five words.
If parents didn’t believe their child could possibly have more to say than when she was a toddler, the preschool years will prove that it indeed is possible. Given all the new experiences in their lives, it’s easy to understand why these little ones have plenty to say. Preschoolers want to talk to you about all that they are learning and they want to be sure you are paying the utmost attention to every minute detail.
Additionally, many children have a self-created routine (that can change on a dime, by the way) to which they need everyone around them to adhere. Should you stray far from it or underestimate their needs in this area, you could be in for a fit that you neither anticipate nor comprehend.
“Our communication challenges with our three-year-old daughter, Celie, often revolve around our inability to talk with her regarding why she’s so upset at times. She has such a hard time if, for example, we try to put on her shoe when she was planning to do it,” comments Ben Strain, dad to Celie and one-year-old Dominic in Olathe, Kansas. “Sometimes, there’s just not time for her to explain (in great detail) why she’s flipping out. It’s as though she assumes we should know what she’s thinking, and she doesn’t seem interested in our explanation as to why her shoe needs to be put on immediately.”
During this time, Kunce reminds parents: “The best thing parents can do is provide a good speech model. Speak slowly and clearly, and try to remove time pressures for speaking. Let your child know that you are interested in what they have to say and you are more than happy to stop and listen.”
When should you worry? Cook recommends, “If hard-to-comprehend speech or other communication issues continue, become more severe, or your child seems constantly frustrated by speech and language challenges, contact a speech-language pathologist for an evaluation.”
Trust Your Instincts
As with everything else in parenting, it is so important for parents to trust their instincts when it comes to their child’s speech and language development. If parents are concerned that something is just not right in terms of their child’s development in this area, they should make an appointment with their child’s doctor to discuss it. If the primary physician isn’t concerned, but the parents aren’t reassured in a short timeframe, they should contact a qualified speech professional on their own.
Don’t worry, the speech hurdles will end. One day, you’ll surely be able to have lengthy discussions with your child about the theories of Freud or the views of Socrates. And when that happens, it might just be you who’s in the position of trying to keep up!
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