I feel privileged to have Julie Miller guest posting for me today. Julie shares her expertise in the field of speech pathology with us in an age related series about communication in children.
Communication in children: From 2 – 3 years
From 2 years of age, our toddlers are becoming much more verbal. Until 18-24 months, much of a toddlers’ communication is primarily non-verbal (expressed through play, gesture, sound effects and shared experiences), but this begins to change from age 2.
It is also from about 2 years of age that gender differences emerge. Ever heard someone say “Girls develop so much faster than boys”? When it comes to communication, this is true. Girls tend to reach the stage of using mostly verbal communication (talking rather than gesture etc) from around 18 months. For boys it tends to be closer to 2 years of age. Even among children of the same gender, there is wide discrepancy in communication skills at age 2. Some children are beginning to use their first single words at this age. Some children are chattering away in full sentences by age 2. So when should we be concerned?
Red flags of communication development:
At 2 years, most children are:
* Confidently using pretend play and extending play episodes (e.g. loading blocks into a truck, pushing truck to another location, dumping blocks or feeding dolly, cuddling dolly, wrapping dolly and putting dolly to bed)
* Using communication (verbal and non-verbal) to make things happen (e.g. pointing to preferred choice of food or drink, asking for a toy, pointing out an aeroplane in the sky for an adult to look at)
*Using communication for make requests (ask for something), refuse an object or activity and share an observation with a parent/ other person.
* Understanding and following simple single-part instructions (e.g. “get your shoes”, “give the ball to mummy”).
* Beginning to answer simple questions (e.g. “what’s that?”, “who’s that?).
* Using around 50-100 single words (these are not all clear, but can be understood in context) and beginning to use some 2 word phrases (e.g. mummy go, push car.
By 3 years, most children are:
* Following 2-step related commands (e.g. “Pick up the book and put it on the table”).
* Using up to 900 words (though I don’t know who would still be counting! Even as a Speech Pathologist, I stopped counting my daughter’s words at 500, and my son’s (second child) at about 150).
* Using different types of words: nouns (object words e.g. dog, ball), verbs (action words e.g. run, stop, go), adjectives and adverbs (describing words e.g. hot, dirty, happily), negatives (e.g. no, not), words for recurrence (e.g. more, again). It is important for sentence development that children have words from all these categories. I have seen children in therapy with literally hundreds of single words, but few sentences, because they are only using nouns!
* Using 3-4 word sentences, mostly simple sentences (e.g. The boy jumped).
* Using some grammar in sentences: plurals (e.g. shoes), -ing endings (e.g. running), pronouns (e.g. me, I, he) and prepositions (location words e.g. on, under, in).
* Able to be understood 80% of the time by an unfamiliar adult.
As you can see, there is quite a jump in expectations of children’s verbal language from 2 years to 3 years of age. If you have any concerns about your child’s language development having read the checklists above, please contact a local Speech Pathologist (through your school, community health centre or private clinic). Also, feel free to drop me an email: julie (at) theusefulbox (dot) com if you want to ask me any questions privately…
How can we help our children to make those big leaps in language that we expect between 2 and 3 years of age?
Helpful Hints for promoting language development
from 2-3 years
1) Promote joint conversation
In order to do this effectively, you need to observe your child. What is his/ her focus of attention? What does he/she enjoy talking about? What is most meaningful to your child? Talk about these things in context. Avoid just giving instructions and asking questions of your child. Spend time commenting on what he/ she is doing and playing together.
2) Read with your child daily and introduce nursery rhymes
An easy way to introduce your child to more complex (but meaningful) language is by sharing books. In order to promote a shared reading experience, observe what your child is doing. Don’t just keep plowing on through the book if your child is on the other side of the room! Engage your child with the pictures. If the text is too much for their attention or comprehension at this stage, just label or describe the pictures. Ask your child to point things out, etc…
Nursery rhymes are invaluable in terms of both language and later literacy development. Read this post if you want to know more: English for Toddlers — Nursery Rhymes.
3) Simplify your language
Simplifying your language is really just that – making your language easier for your toddler to follow. Try to aim your language at the level just above the language your child is using. You want to show your child what they are aiming for, in terms of language.
If your child is not using any words, or only a few single words, you would mostly be using single words, with a few two-word phrases (e.g. Child points to daddy and grunts or says “dah”…Parent may say “yes, daddy!” or Child says – “daddy”…Parent may say “daddy’s home“, “look daddy”, “daddy go”)
When your child is beginning to use more language, you continue to use what they say as a guide, adding one or two words above what your child says (e.g. Child says “Daddy ball”… Parent says “Daddy throw ball”, “Give daddy ball” or Child says “Give ball daddy”… Parent says “Mummy give ball to daddy”)
It really isn’t hard in theory, but can be hard to actually do this in practice. It does take some time to think about how you can simplify your language, but the more you do it, the easier it gets.
4) Model specific vocabulary or grammar
Modeling is aboutaltering your speech/language to help your child’s communication development. There is no response required from your child. You do not provide any direct feedback on what your child says or how they say it. You simply use your child’s language output as a guide to determine how/ what you will model.
a) Child says “I goed shops”
Parent says “Oh, you went to the shops, did you?”
b) Child says: “Her took it”.
Parent says “Oh, she took it” (with emphasis on “she”).
Do not ask you child to say the sentence again or “drill” the error (e.g. make them say it correctly over and over). Provide the correct model, with emphasis, and then move on in the conversation.
The hardest part of language modeling is trying to identify language goals that are relevant to your child. You may need a Speech Pathologist or “tuned in” friend to help you determine appropriate goals helping your child’s communication development.
5) Consider social interaction, play skills and speech sound development
These are all topics requiring posts in themselves, but all can have a huge impact on communication development. If you have any concerns with your child’s ability to interact with peers and adults, to demonstrate appropriate attention to task in play situations, or to play appropriately, consult a Speech Pathologist or paediatrician (or again, feel free to email me with any questions).
Speech sounds are not expected to be clear to unfamiliar adults until after 3 years of age. It is important however to begin to observe patterns of errors in your child’s speech after age 2. If your child seems to be very inconsistent with speech productions (e.g. produces the same word completely differently on different occasions) or his/her speech is regularly unable to be understood by close family members, a consult with a speech pathologist may be warranted. I hope to expand on speech sound development/ articulation in a later post.
For more information on communication in babies (0-1 year) and children (1-2 years) see my previous guest posts:
What changes are you observing in your child’s communication at the moment?
Julie Miller is a Speech Pathologist, wife, mother and blogger. She has worked in private practice, community health and early intervention programs since graduating in 2000. Julie blogs at The Useful Box.