Speech and Communication Development – Birth to 3 Years

Speech and language understanding is the foundation for developing expressive communication skills, but every child will develop communication in his or her own unique way. Following general milestones will help you see if your child is on the right track.

How many words should my child be saying?

At 1 to 2 years old, a child should begin using two-word phrases. These will be simple, but frequently used or heard, for example: “more milk” or “no daddy.”

When a child is 2 to 3 years old he or she should be able to combine three to four words in statements. Children should also begin asking questions such as “Where is Mommy?”

What should my child understand?

Between 6 months and 1 year of age, children begin turning their heads to sounds and voices in the environment. A child should recognize his or her own name, as well as show understanding of some basic words.

When a child becomes more mobile, his or her understanding of words begins to expand. At 1 to 2 years of age, a child should follow simple one-step directions. This is a good time to start referencing body parts and having your child point to them. Waving “hi” and “bye,” pointing to named pictures in a book or reaching for familiar objects that you name are all good ways to determine if your child has reached this milestone.

At 2 to 3 years old, two-part directions, such as “Get the ball and give it to Daddy” should be mastered. Your child should also be paying attention to stories for longer periods of time and begin to understand action words such as eat, play or read.What sounds should I listen for?

Babbling begins between 3 and 6 months of age in different consonant/vowel combinations. First consonant sounds are usually: m, b, p, h, w, y, n, d, t, g, c or k.

What can I do to help?

Use simple toys and everyday objects in different ways while modeling repeated words and phrases. For example:

  • Stacking blocks: “Up, up, up, down!”
  • Ball passing: “Bounce or roll? Okay, one, two, three, roll to me!”
  • Getting the mail from the mailbox: “Walking, walking, open. I see mail! Let’s take it out!”
  • Bath time: “Look at the bubbles! Splash, splash! Where are your feet? There are those feet!”
  • Dressing: “One sock on. Two socks on! Pull your pants up, up, up. Pull your shirt down, down, down. All ready!”
  • Snack time: “Banana or applesauce? Oh, you want bananas. Eat, eat, eat. Yum-yum-yummy! Do you want more? Say ‘more.’”
  • Model short words and silly sounds for your child to imitate, such as animal sounds or car sounds.
  • Hold two objects and ask your child to make a choice between the two: “Do you want the truck or the ball?” or ask “Milk or food?”
  • Ask your child to point to pictures in books as you read together, for example, “Where’s the car?”
  • Play games and sing songs to teach body parts and clothing items, for example, “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.”

Don’t forget the other senses.

Children use a combination of all of their senses to begin to understand their world and start to assign words to different things and experiences. Vision, hearing, touch, smell and taste are all important senses for children to begin to make sense of their world. If one or more of these senses is impaired, children will likely learn to communicate differently. If you have any questions about your child’s ability to hear or see, please ask your child’s pediatrician and consider getting a prescription for a full hearing or vision evaluation.

For more information about Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Speech Therapy Services, click here or listen to our PediaCast.

Annie Temple, MS, CCC-SLP, CLC
Annie Temple, MS, CCC-SLP, CLC is a speech pathologist and certified lactation counselor who works with children and their families through Nationwide Children’s Hospital homecare and Neonatology/BPD Developmental Follow-Up Clinic. Her specialty areas include early communication and feeding, including support for infants and toddlers feeding via breast, bottle, and other means, as well as developing foundational speech and language skills. She strives to optimize children’s interaction with the people and world around them through communicating in a variety of ways, and support positive, safe eating experiences.

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