The first smile, the first wave, the first word. Of all the toddler milestones, perhaps the most eagerly awaited is the first ‘mama’ or ‘dada’. It’s a moment that lives long in every parent’s memory.
But what if it doesn’t happen when you think it should? Or as your little one becomes a toddler, what if their speech seems to lag behind that of their peers?
Every child is different
Around the age of one, your baby may start saying their first single words, but if they aren’t chattering away on their first birthday there is almost certainly no cause for concern.
It is important to remember that children develop at different rates. Some will be saying their first words a little before the age of one and others two or three months later.
We’re all tempted to gauge our child’s progress by comparing it to that of their peers, or to an older sibling, but there is a broad range of normal when it comes to children learning to talk, and few children develop in a ‘textbook’ fashion.
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Nevertheless, the NHS does suggest loose milestones. It suggests, for example, that by 18 months to two years most children can string two words together.
But again, the definition of what is normal is broad. At two, some children will be talking in short sentences, while others will still be accumulating a vocabulary of single words.
Sometimes a child can fall behind even these loose milestones, for a variety of reasons. They may naturally speak a little later than their peers, but occasionally delayed speech can indicate a more serious issue that needs to be addressed. Again, there’s no need to be alarmed. If you have concerns speak to your GP or health visitor. If there is an issue, your child can be referred to a speech and language therapist who can help them to articulate.
What you can do
And there’s plenty parents can do to encourage their child to communicate. In fact, parents are the most important factor in a child learning to speak well.
When you talk and sing to your toddler, and listen to their cooing and babbling while looking into their eyes, you are helping them develop their speech and language skills. The more you communicate, the more likely it is that they will.
So communicate with your toddler as much as possible, making time to talk and listen. Turn off distractions – like the TV or radio – and ask questions, discuss what you can see on the pages of a picture book, or point out new things when you’re out and about.
There’s plenty of good advice on helping your toddler’s speech here.
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