Your baby was hardwired to communicate from the moment they were born. Initially the only way they could converse was to scream at you. These high pitched cries have a very important purpose, it is the way they let you know that they are hungry, tired or uncomfortable (although sometimes it feels like understanding the meaning behind their tears requires a degree in code breaking).
In this post we will explore the stages your child goes through from those early cries to chit chat and what you can do to support them on their communication journey.
3 – 6 months
When your baby is roughly three months old they may begin to make more distinct and purposeful sounds and babbles. They may make noises back at you when you talk to them, recognising and mimicking the rhythm of a conversation.
At this stage, even if they don’t seem to always respond, keep up your side of the conversation. Talk through the activities you do with them and any other tasks while in the room. The more you talk to them the better their grasp on language will be.
Access to music from a young age has a huge positive impact on their language development, especially age appropriate songs such as nursery rhymes. Sing to your child and if possible take them to a group like Tots Play where music is part of the class. Want to practice at home? Download your favourite songs and rhymes HERE.
6 – 12 months
By six months, babies will repeat certain sounds (over and over again). At this stage it is likely they recognise the sound of their own name and understand to some degree its significance to them as an individual, causing them to respond to it when called.
Your baby will integrate hand gestures such as pointing, clapping and waving into their developing language. If you have been teaching your child baby sign, your child will be able to communicate far more at this stage than babies reliant on spoken language alone. Baby sign will support your baby as they bridge the gap between what they understand and what they can actually say. You can learn some simple sign language to get you started at your local Tots Play class or with our downloadable guide.
They are enjoying learning the sound of their own voice but your reassurance is vital. Show them that their attempts at interacting are successful. When they reach out to you, communicate back. Echo the baby babble and look out for and respond to their attempts at signing, showing them that what they say is valuable.
1 year to 17 months
At around a year old your baby starts to develop into a toddler and with this comes their first words. Often these words are dada and muma. This is because they hear these words a lot but they are also easy for the mouth and tongue to wrap themselves around (the d sound is slightly easier, which is why dada sometimes comes first!).
Children will also start to greet others. When a toddler says “hiya” or “bye” and someone returns the gesture the child will learn that communication is interaction and can impact on the actions of other’s. They will enjoy this power.
During this time they will continue to pick up more words some of which will be shortened versions. However tempting in might be, try not to copy their abbreviations every time, don’t correct them just use the correct version yourself. Small children need to hear well-spoken conversation to model their own development on.
They will start to follow simple instructions, particularly if they are part of a routine. For example when they see everybody is getting ready to leave the house and you tell them to get their shoes, they may be able to recognise what is required and do as you ask.
Regularly attending a structured activity class can also help with this, especially when elements of the class are repeated each week, such as the Tots Play welcome song and warm up section. Being able to follow and join in with some of these elements also helps to build their confidence to participate and communicate further.
Give your child lots of opportunities to practice following instructions and become familiar with simple routines.
18 months – 2 years
By the time your child is 18 months old they will probably have around 15 words, although you might be the only one who understands them. This number could reach 50 by the time they are 2. At this point they may start to put single words together. For example “pick up” or “hug mummy.” They will also start to sing nursery rhymes back to you.
You will hear your child talk to themselves more and more as they discover the world around them through play. Sometimes as you listen you will hear recognisable words or phrases but even if you don’t, the pattern and rhythm of speech will be mimicked and you may even be able to decipher the meaning.
As your child develops speech they will inevitably get pronouns confused. She and he are classics that trip a toddler up. The concept of these labels are just abstract to them, don’t worry they will get it.
Continue to keep up the conversation. When your child pronounces something wrong, don’t explicitly correct them but instead mirror what they say with the correct pronunciation. For example if your child says “pay bark” meaning that they want to go to the park to play. Repeat back to them, “Great, you want to play at the park do you?”
2 - 3 years
As your toddler grows and learns between the ages of 2 – 3 their vocabulary list will grow to around 300 words. They will be more able to pronounce the words more clearly and soon other people will understand him or her as much as you do. They will also begin to understand the correct pronouns to use, although mistakes will still be made at this stage.
At this age children discover the joy of the question. There are many aspects of the world they want to learn and you represent wisdom so they will ask you.
By the time your child turns 3 they will be able to engage in simple conversation.
To encourage your toddler to talk, make sure you create a space where they can talk and you will listen, read books, play, sing songs and converse.
Remember, all children develop at different rates, and the main piece of advice is not to worry if your child isn’t meeting milestones by the exact date. If you are concerned at all though, contact your health visitor with any questions.
At Tots Play we provide many opportunities that support you as you help your child to communicate. At a Tots Play class you will play music, sing, learn sign language and, importantly, have time and space for you to focus on your child and allow natural interaction to take place. Find your nearest class HERE.
If you can’t get to a class, you can practice these skills with the help of our online resources, so make the most of communicating with your baby today; it’s never too early to get your chat on!
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