The speech development of a child varies, even within the same family. Just like any skill they acquire, learning to communicate develops over many months and years. Some children begin speaking actively even before entering preschool, while others only start speaking when they are more comfortable with speech patterns. Speech development milestones offer guidance.
Before toddlers learn to talk in real language, they babble and coo. This is known as baby talk, which is non-verbal and happens at a very young age. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), most children begin talking between the ages of 1 to 2.
By the age of 2, they would have acquired a set of basic words to say, such as ‘Dada’, ‘Mama’, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Most children can easily speak using a language when they turn 5 years old. These are general milestones that serve as a rough guide to normal speech development in children.
If your child seems to be developing speech skill sets a little slower than these milestones, don’t be too hasty to rule it as a speech development delay. Sometimes, all your child needs are just achievable speech development milestones, with the guidance of parents.
Signs of Speech Delay Problem
Note that some children may not master speech skill sets at the same time as other children. While that is normal, there are speech delay tell-signs that you can be aware of.
Depending on your child’s age, some quick signs of a speech delay according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) are:
- 18 months: Does not say “Mama”, “Dada” or other names.
- Age 2: Does not use at least 25 words in speech.
- Age 4 & above: The child’s speech is difficult to understand.
If you have difficulty communicating with your child, here are some questions to ask yourself.
Do they show interest in others?
When your child meets other people, do they notice their presence and react? The reaction could be smiling when seeing someone familiar or crying as you leave them on their own.
Do they mimic sounds?
Your child’s speech patterns usually reflect what they hear around them. Do they mimic the sound of how someone coughs or answers the phone at home?
Do they respond to their name?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children as young as 6 months old can recognize their name and respond to their name being called.
Various factors such as hearing issues, muscle problems, and autism spectrum contribute to speech delays. In any case, if you notice your child exhibiting some of the tell-signs of speech delay, promptly get an evaluation and treatment by a healthcare professional.
Ways To Help With Speech Development of a Child
Understanding how to communicate using words takes time and effort. It is normal for developing children to have trouble with words, sounds, vowels, and sentences as they learn and attempt to apply. This challenge is further compounded when they are learning multiple languages in their household.
Luckily, there are many ways to help them with their speech development. Here are some of the best ways:
1 – Challenge your child to speak
As your child grows up, they may start to ask for things by pointing and making gestures. It will be tempting to immediately give them what they want.
But by doing this, you miss out on the opportunity to encourage them to speak using proper words.
Instead of guessing what they want and handing it to them easily, challenge your child to name the thing that they want. These are part and parcel of language activities for toddlers.
2 – Ask questions about their interests
Asking questions is one of the best ways to encourage your child to speak and use their verbal skills. This can be made even more effective when you ask open-ended questions, where the answer isn’t just a simple “yes” or “no”.
To encourage your child to speak, ask questions about something they have a strong interest in. Why do they like their favourite cartoon character? Who is their best friend at preschool? What is their favourite subject and why?
Encourage your child to elaborate on their answers. But remember to not overwhelm them with too many questions as speech development milestones require slow and steady progress.
3 – Minimize the use of pacifiers
Pacifiers are designed to provide comfort for babies. This means they are not meant for preschoolers. If your child is about to enter preschool and still relies on a pacifier, you need to help them break the habit.
Pacifiers negatively alter the alignment of children’s developing teeth. Further, using pacifiers can affect speech development as they prevent children from speaking.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limiting pacifier use up to around 6 months and then totally stopping as children turn 1 year old. During this period, important speech development occurs rapidly and without the pacifier, your child has more opportunities to babble and speak.
4 – Let your child play the leader
Language activities for toddlers include fun speech games with your child. Here’s an example that contributes to speech development milestones:
Tell your child to play a game, where they would act as the leader. Then ask your child to give you a verbal step-by-step direction on how to do something.
The idea is to get them to think and use words to communicate something that they don’t often use. This helps them develop their speech skill sets and enhances their proficiency for daily communication.
5 – Encourage repetition
Think back to the time when you learned to swim or to ride a bicycle. First, you had to learn the essential skills. Then, it was all about practising and practising until you built your confidence and muscle memory to do that activity.
The same goes for stages of speech and language development. Repetition is the key to learning.
When practising speech with your child, repeat the words they say correctly back to them in a positive tone. If they mispronounce a word, do the same thing. This is to allow them to correct you. When they do that, help them realize what is the correct pronunciation versus what they said.
Children sometimes don’t realize that they are making a mistake until someone points it out. And once you correct them, it’s just about putting in enough repetitions for them to absorb the lesson.
6 – Listen to nursery rhymes
As a parent of a preschooler, nursery rhymes have most probably become a part of your everyday life. Some parents get a little fed up listening to nursery rhymes every day. You may begin to wonder if they actually help your child.
Research by the University of Ottawa shows that nursery rhymes, songs, and listening activities can help children not only with their speech development but also to become competent readers.
The researchers concluded that knowledge of nursery rhymes through repetition enhances phonological awareness, which in turn links to success in reading, spelling, and speech.
7 – Get professional help
As children develop their skill sets by listening to others speak, parents play a crucial role in the growth in the speech development of a child.
While you can guide your child at home to develop much-needed skill sets, a professional may just be what your child needs to learn more complex speech skill sets. Reach out to people (in this case, their teachers) who have the experience of helping children with speech development.
Ask about how you can continue to help your child develop their speech skill sets at home, in tandem with what they learn in preschool.
More Tips to Support Your Child’s Speech Development
Here are some additional tips for supporting your child’s speech and language development.
- Always respond to your toddler’s coos and babbles.
- Frequently talk with your child. Tell them what you are doing as you do it.
- Never force your child to speak.
- Don’t criticize or scold their speech mistakes. Instead, model good speech habits.
- Do more storytelling. Stories are easy to remember and are effective for learning.
- When talking to your child, give them time to respond.
- Encourage your child to play with other children.
In closing, developing good speech in children requires incremental steps mentioned in the article. Having your child speak with enthusiasm should be every parent’s first goal, alongside correct grammatical use of the language. This is to ensure that your child only learns what is best for their growth.
Building open an environment for positivity and growth would aid in the development of any child’s speech skill sets.