Do you often agonize because your one- or two-year-old hasn’t begun talking but your friend’s toddler has? Do you count your child’s words/phrases to determine if they fit into some “developmental range” you saw in a book? Do you become tearful when they don’t? Do you often compare your child’s speech and language skills with those of their playmates or siblings? Well, if you do, you could be doing more harm than good. This type of behavior could be causing you unnecessary fears and frustrations. The fact is, babies are individuals and they develop speech at different rates. For example, although Nora, Kayla and Jeremy are all two years old (born one week apart), they each show discernible language and speech developmental patterns. Nora consistently jabbers bursts of new words on a daily basis. Kayla, in contrast, shows a steady word-a-month increase in her vocabulary. And, Jeremy, on the third hand, still hadn’t said much until the end of his second birthday. However, each of these children has developed speech and language skills at his/her “normal” rate. So, what should you do if you’re tempted to compare notes on your child’s “toddler talk”?
“Instead of making comparisons, remember that your child is an individual with his/her own genetic makeup and experiences who will develop his/her speech and language patterns at a rate appropriate for him/her,” says Shirlen Triplett, a Child Development Specialist at Olive Harvey College in Illinois. “As parents, we must pay close attention to the ways in which our children communicate, rather than to how many words they know. For example, does your child understand a lot but say a little? Does she use body language instead of words to express her wants and desires? Does she show progressive language development? That is, does she know more today than she did yesterday? By affirmatively answering these questions, you can determine if your child is developing at his/her “normal” rate, says Triplett.
But, what kind of developmental behaviors “warn” parents that their child might not be developing within his/her “normal” rate. According to Triplett, “Professional evaluations may be needed if your toddler fails to cry or communicate her needs, if she is unable to understand or respond to language by age one, if she does not use one-word utterances by eighteen months, if by two years, she only uses one-word utterances, or if she doesn’t positively respond to adult shared reading experiences.” Triplett warns parents to utilize these “developmental milestones” merely as a guide because children are individuals and parental evaluations are the key to determining if a child is developing “normally.” Nevertheless, your gut feelings about your child’s development are paramount. “Therefore, if you inherently believe that your child has delayed communication skills then you should seek help from a speech pathologist or other professional,” says Triplett. Early evaluation is important to determine if there is a problem. In assessing the child, the professional will utilize a combination of standardized tests and personal evaluations. He/she will look at the child’s speech and language skills within the context of his/her total development and will determine whether the child is developing within his/her “normal” range.
But, if you simply want to encourage further language development in your toddler, is there anything you can do as a parent? Since parents set the stage for positive development, it is imperative that you creative a positive learning environment for your child. This can be accomplished by: (1) exposing your child to language that is slightly above his/her current level, (2) omitting unreasonable speech demands but encouraging attempts, (3) reading and singing to your children on a daily basis, (4) introducing your child to a variety of books and nursery rhymes, (5) encouraging your toddler to develop new vocabulary by explaining what you are doing as you work and by commenting on what he/she is doing, (6) imitating your child’s actions but eliminating “baby talk” from your vocabulary, (7) speaking directly to your child and encouraging him/her to respond, and (8) showing excitement for your child’s accomplishments.
In conclusion, just like no two individuals are the same, no two toddlers are the same either. Toddlers develop speech at different rates and what may be normal for one child may not be normal for another. Therefore, instead of comparing notes on our child’s “toddler talk” and agonizing over what our child “should” be doing, we must pay attention to our particular child. We must listen to the ways in which our child communicates (verbally and nonverbally) and we should encourage speech development on a daily basis. Nevertheless, if we are still concerned about our child’s development, we should seek a professional evaluation as soon as possible.
Kristi Patrice Carter is the loving mother of two beautiful children and an experienced writer and e-business owner. Her parenting articles have been featured in numerous magazines, e-zines and Websites. Kristi’s newest parenting e-book, Wean that Kid (www.weanthatkid.com), intersperses her own weaning experiences with those of other moms. It yields an unbiased guide that is filled with useful tips and techniques for mothers who want to wean their children according to their child’s individuality and unique temperaments, without experiencing guilt over the decision.