Your little one will gradually start to understand how he can use words to describe everything from what he feels, thinks, sees and hears. Even before he said that special first word, he was intently listening to you and everyone around him and learning the unique skills of speech and language. In fact, right from the moment your baby arrived in the world he was learning how to communicate. The first form of communication is of course crying, he cried to let you know when he was hungry, needed a nappy change, when he was tired or simply needed a cuddle.

From roughly three months of age you may notice your baby starting to babble and making sounds back to you when you talk to him, almost like a conversation. He may well recognise his own name and will most likely respond by turning his head when you call him from across the room. By the time six months tolls around you may have noticed your baby has favourite sounds, this could be “ba” or “da” as these are easier sounds to pronounce. You will probably hear these sounds over and over again.

By the time your baby’s first birthday arrives he will be starting to use a few words and will understand what they mean. His first word is likely to be something along the lines of “dada” or “mummum”. During the next 6-12 months there will be enormous development and by 18 months your little toddler may be using 6-20 simple words and will be able to understand simple instructions such as “sit at the table” and “pick up the cup”. By two years of age there will be a speech explosion and your toddler may be using up to 50 words and will be starting to put two words together to form simple sentences such as “pick up”. He will enjoy singing along to his favourite nursery rhymes and will chatter to himself whilst playing. Don’t worry if your toddlers speech isn’t quite clear yet, every child learns to make different sounds at varying ages.

Between the ages of two and three years, a child’s vocabulary increases to a massive 300 words. You will likely hear your child babbling along from morning until night, often shouting. Don’t worry he will soon learn the right volume when talking. Your little one will soon start to understand the difference between “I”, “me”, and “you” and will most probably be asserting his independence by using the word “no” often! Those sentences will continue to develop and by the time three rolls around you will be able to have a simple conversation with your child. By this age your child will most likely be able to tell you his full name, age and gender.

To encourage your child’s speech and language development talk to your child as much as possible, start this right from birth. When you are out and about describe your daily routine. The more you talk to your child, the more words he will be exposed to and learn. Chat to your child throughout regular activities including feeding, bath time and nappy changes. Even when babbling give your child time to respond. Reading a book at bedtime is also a fabulous way to encourage development of language and communication skills.

As your child gets older try to simplify your speech and use short sentences, emphasise key words to enable your child to focus on the important points. As your child develops sentence formation try to talk to him in sentences that are roughly one word longer than he is currently using. For example, if your child says “a dog” say “yes, a dog”. You may also find offering your child choices will help to increase his vocabulary for example “Do you want water or milk?” You could also consider using a picture to help your child associate the item in his mind.

If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development speak with your Health Visitor. She will likely be able to reassure you and offer activities for you to try at home. If necessary she will also be able to refer you to a Speech & Language Therapist for further advice and assessment.

This content was provided by our expert Midwife and Health Visitor, Katie Hilton (Bsc, Msc)

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