The first few years of life can be an exciting time to watch your child develop and learn. However, sometimes children may need extra support to meet their developmental milestones. One of the areas of development that parents may get most concerned about is when their child has not begun talking.
The "talking" between a parent and baby starts within the first few months. This communication between a parent and baby may be in the form of crying for comfort or food or simply when the parent and baby regard each other during a feeding. Parents can help to foster these skills by responding to the infant whether its providing food or a diaper change or reading a baby's cues by stopping play if a baby looks away, yawns or hiccups as these are signs that the baby needs a break. Additionally, although a baby does not fully understand what you may be saying to him, always talk to him and expose him to language. Babies are most responsive to "motherese" or baby talk which is when the parent voice is in a higher pitch.
As the baby grows, he will learn through experimentation that he is able to make different noises. It may first start with "oohhhs" and "ahhhs" and then develop into strings of "bababababa" or "dadadadada" and shorten over time. At this stage babies are learning to play with these sounds and as parents guide them, they learn that "dada" or "mama" have particular meaning to people in his life. This skill can develop as early as 8 months.
When a baby is one year old, he may have a few words in addition to "mama" and "dada". Depending on each child's experiences it can be common words like "ball" or "dog". These words will not be as clear as an older child, but may be word approximations, words that sound like the actual word.
At the around 18 months, babies may have a vocabulary of 20 words. They may be using these words to label objects or people or to request their needs.
At 2 years of age, toddlers will minimally have a vocabulary of 50 words and will be combining them to make simple sentences, such as "more juice" or "car go". The toddler's vocabulary may be a combination of nouns and verbs.
At 3 years of age, a toddler can have a vocabulary of 300 words. His language skills will be more mature where others can have conversations with him. He may be asking questions and sing simple songs.
If you have concerns about how your child's language skills are developing there are many things that you can do to support him, such as:
-Following your child's cues and let him direct his play. As he is playing comment on what he is doing.
-Use simple words or phrases. Use the rule of using only one word more than what your child is already using. For example, if your child is not using words yet, talk with him in one word phrases. Instead of "do you want more juice?" try "juice?" Or if he is using one word, talk with him in two words. So if he says, "up", say "dada up?"
-Avoid teaching non-functional language. It is a natural part of development that children with learn manners, such as saying "thank you' and "please". Concentrate on words that your child can use to comment on his environment and request what he wants like "ball", "more", "eat" and "up".
-Introduce simple sign language. Learning simple signs for more, all done, play, eat and drink and use them along with the words. Babies and toddlers love to imitate and it is easier for them to imitate body gestures versus words. It will give them a way to communicate if the development of language is more difficult. You will find that a child may use a sign, then the sign and word together and once he is fully able to use the word will eliminate using the sign.
-Allow your child to progress in his feeding. Allowing your baby or toddler to experience a variety of food textures helps to develop the mouth's muscles needed to make words. Babies do not need teeth to chew food as they will chew food with their gums. Babies teeth come in first in the front and we do not chew food in the front of the mouth. Until babies grow and develop molars as toddlers they use their gums. If you think about yourself, food is chewed in the back of the mouth, not the front. You do not have to delay giving food that needs to be chewed. Additionally, although bottles and sippy cups can be neater, they use the same muscle movement in the mouth. Allow your baby or toddler to experiment with straws or sips from open cups. You will be amazed that babies can drink from straws before they are one year old. Boxed juice cups can be a great way to teach your baby to drink from a straw. You can simply squeeze a little juice in his mouth by squeezing the box of juice and he may quickly discover how to do it on his own!
-Try to limit pacifier use. Pacifiers can be a great way to help a baby self-soothe. As a baby grows, help him to get use to using it less frequently or not at all. A baby will have more opportunity to experiment with making sounds or words when it is out of his mouth.
-Read books. Exposing your child to books is a wonderful opportunity to share time together and develop language skills. Depending on your child's age, reading books can simply be looking at pictures together and pointing out the pictures. As your child grows, you will be able to read more of the story.
-Set up situations where you child can use his language. Anticipating your child's needs and allowing your child to tell you what he wants is a great way to help language to develop. For example, if your child usually drinks a full cup of milk, fill it up half way so he has to let you know he wants more. You can model by asking, "more?" or showing him the sign for more.
-Provide choices throughout the day. By allowing choices you are teaching your child that he has to do something to get what he wants. If you know that he will want gold fish crackers for snack, show him the bag of crackers and a box of Cheerios. You can then ask him by showing him, "fish?" "Cheerios?". You can then help him by showing him how to point to the object he wants and then comment, "fish".
-Try to have language be natural. Sometimes parents may tell their child, "say _____". For children that may be experiencing some difficulty producing words rather than saying the word they may hold back because they are afraid of failure or because it becomes a power struggle. Setting up the situations where a child can use language or providing choices can be a way to eliminate these scenarios.
-Whenever possible get down to the child's level and show the object that you are referring to. Children do better if you are face-to-face when working on language. It can allow the opportunity for a child to see how your mouth is moving to create the words. As children also are learning about word's meanings, it can be easier for them to understand and develop the word for ball when you are showing them what you are talking about. Putting objects next to your mouth will allow them to see the object and how your mouth is creating the word.
These are all simple ways to help to build your child's language development, whether he is beginning to learn or has a language delay. It is important to remember that all children develop at different stages, however, there are ranges to when infants and toddlers meet these milestones.
If you are finding that your child is not developing language according to developmental milestones talk to your child's pediatrician. Your doctor will help you to determine if your child may benefit in working with a program that helps children develop their language skills. Many of the programs can make determinations if your child is language delayed by simply talking with you and playing with your child. If you are still concerned and your docotor is not, many programs do not need a doctor's referral so you may still be able to refer your child for help. You know your child best.