One of my dear friends and recipe club members, Emily is here to guest blog today! You can learn more about her adventures in parenting over on her blog, Beautiful Littles.

Hello! My name is Emily Petrous, and I am a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP). I work with children from birth to age 26 in both private and school settings with a variety of disorders. I get questions all the time from parents asking if how their child is talking (or not talking) is normal. So, I’m here to give you a brief overview of infant and toddler development. Remember, these are only guidelines- each child is different. Let’s talk about talking!

Did you know it takes 12 muscles to smile? And even more to talk! To talk, you have to coordinate muscles in the mouth (the tongue), muscles of the jaw and lips, then add on breath control and airflow. It’s a workout!

Speech and Articulation

By 18 months, a child’s speech is normally 25% intelligible; by 24 months, 50-75%; and by 36 months, 75-100%. Children should have all sounds developed by the age of 8 years, around 3rd grade. Vowels and the sounds /p, b, m/ are typically the first to develop, while voiced and voiceless th are typically the last (bathe, bath). /r, l, s/ are sounds that typically develop later, so don’t be worried that your 3-year-old child says wabbit for rabbit.

It is often helpful to associate an action with a sound to improve a child’s sound imitation, such as peek (uncovering eyes), m-m-m (rubbing stomach), oops (toy falling), and bye-bye (wave). If your child doesn’t imitate speech sounds, start with non-speech sounds, including blowing (bubbles, a candle, a feather), smacking lips (kiss and make a smacking sound), crying (little breathy sounds), and animal sounds, such as dog (bow-wow or ruff), cat (meow), bee (buzz), cow (moo), sheep (baa), horse (neigh) and chick (peep). Sounds and oral motor (mouth) play are important to developing speech. Be silly and have fun with it!

Expressive and Receptive Language

Expect to hear first words between 12 and 18 months. By 12 months, most children have 1-2 words they say with meaning, can comply with simple requests, understand no, wave good-bye and play pat-a-cake. By 18 months, a child will use around 10-20 words, combine two words (i.e., daddy bye-bye) and point to several common body parts (eyes, nose, toes). By 24 months, a child will produce between 50-200 words, refer to self by name, ask questions (i.e., What’s this? and Where’s my?), name pictures and identify body parts. There will be a spurt of language development before 2 years. By 2-3 years of age, your child should be able to follow 2-part directions (go get your shoes and put them in the basket), string 2-3 words together, and match several colors. By 4 years, your child should be able to produce 4-5 word sentences, produce correct grammar most of the time, and will be understood by others almost always.

Ways to motivate your child to use language and stimulate speech and language
  • Be sure to give your child choices
  • Create interesting situations (bubbles, hide and seek)
  • Sing a familiar song, recite nursery rhymes or use short phrases during play and leave off a word (Ready, Set, ____; Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the _____)
  • Put items in view but out of reach
  • Assign a job that requires a request for help (popsicle wrapper, closed container, missing puzzle piece)
  • Create situations in which your child needs to ask for more
  • Do something very unusual (funny mask, no water in bathtub, bowl on head, coat on backwards)
  • Use questions and requests effectively to obtain information (tell me about…, what is he doing)
  • Read books with simple words and colorful pictures every day, and repeat favorites
  • Use clear, short words and phrases based on your child’s developmental level
  • Imitate your child’s movements, actions, vocalizations and words
  • Reward and encourage efforts at new sounds and words
  • Don’t pressure your child to perform for you
  • Talk, talk, talk! Talk to your child about everything you’re doing when you’re with him. Provide a positive example of communication.
Red Flags to Watch for
  • By 6 months- not making eye contact, not cooing or babbling, no reciprocal smile, no vocal turn-taking, no response to peek-a-boo, not responding to name being called, no social smile by 6 weeks
  • By 14 months- no attempts to speak, no pointing, waving or grasping, no response when name is called, indifferent to others, likes to play by self, no joint attention, any loss of language
  • By 24 months- does not initiate two-word phrases, any loss of words or developmental skill
For more specific questions regarding your child, ask the Speech Pathologist in your local school district. Follow your instinct and inquire!