Are you looking for information about infant and toddler speech and ways to support your baby’s speech development? If so, you are in the right place! This article covers infant speech development milestones, ways to support speech development, and when to reach out to a professional for support.
The moment you discover you will be a parent, you may begin to imagine bonding with your child through speech and conversations. Many parents begin speaking to their child while in the womb, and the good news is, your child is listening even if they cannot understand you.
A study completed by the Journal of Psychological Science reported that newborns could recognize their mother’s voice. So, speaking and singing to your baby, even in utero, sets up the building blocks for speech and language development. However, there is quite a journey ahead before two-way conversations can happen!
Many parents excitedly wait to hear the first word, phrase, and sentence their little one will utter; mama or dada, perhaps up or no? But, regardless of the word, It’s an exciting time and always worth the anticipation.
Infant and Toddle Speech Development Timeline
Before we list numerical ages and milestones, it is important to recognize that every child is different. Therefore, a developmental timeline like the one below is merely a guideline, not a prescription!
If your child develops behind the typical age recommendations, there is no cause for concern in most cases. However, if you fear that your child is significantly delayed or you have concerns reach out to your child’s caregiver, your pediatrician, or a speech professional.
Speech timeline as per the American Academy of Pediatrics
Birth to 3 Months
- Makes eye contact with people
- Smiles at people
- Cries when they have a need
- Makes cooing sounds
- Responds to the voice of their mother or familiar caregiver
- Stops crying when spoken to in a calm, familiar voice
- Startles at loud sounds
4 to 6 Months
- Coos and babbles with sounds like pa, da, ma, ba, etc.
- Makes sounds that match their emotions (angry, happy, etc.)
- Laughs and smiles
- Moves their eyes in the direction of sounds
- Pays attention to music
- Responds to changes in the tone of your voice
- Makes gestures when they want your attention
7 to 12 months
- Strings different sounds together to form “sentences”; uses intonation
- Uses sounds and gestures to communicate and gain attention
- Points to objects
- Waves hello or bye-bye
- Imitates sounds
- May have one or two words
- Looks in the direction of sounds
- Looks where you point
- Responds to the sound of their name
- Understands familiar words
- Enjoys games like peek-a-boo
- Listens to songs and stories
12 to 24 Months
- Has several words; 75-200 by the age of two
- Starts to name pictures in books
- Points to familiar objects in books when you name them
- Combines 2-3 words to form short sentences
- Asks questions
- Listens to simple stories, rhymes, and songs
- Uses consonant sounds like p, b, m, d, w,
- Follows one-step directions like “Hand me the ball.”
24 to 36 Months
- Has several words/ can name most things; approximately 1,000 words by the age of three
- Can talk about things that are not in the room
- Puts 3+ words together to form sentences
- Understands some opposites; stop and go, big and little, hot and cold
- Follows two-step directions like “Put your truck away and bring me the book.”
- Uses consonant sounds like k, t, g, f, n
- Uses positional words like in, under, on top
- Asks “why?”
- Understands new words quickly
- May recognize their name in print
- May recognize some uppercase letters in print
- Enjoys rhyming games and books
Tips to Encourage Speech and Language Development
Whether you feel your little one is advanced, delayed, or right on the mark, it is always a good idea to encourage speech and language development.
Here are five easy ways every parent can encourage speech and language development in their infant or toddler!
Talk to your baby
It may feel silly to speak aloud to someone who isn’t going to respond; however, the exposure to your voice, words, and sounds are great for your baby’s brain development. Children learn speech and language through exposure, so the more you talk, the quicker they learn.
If you’re unsure what to say, narrate what you are doing. For example, “Mommy is folding all the laundry, so you have clean clothes to wear,” or “Daddy is getting dinner ready. Should we have pasta or chicken?”
You can describe what you see or hear or simply share your thoughts and opinions. The content isn’t essential, but the exposure to language is!
Sing to your baby
Singing to your baby is not only a fantastic way to bond, but it also:
- Increases cognitive development
- Regulates moods and arousal level by releasing endorphins
- Teaches rhythm and rhyme
- Teaches the names of people, places, and things
- Teaches new words
- It is fun and playful
- Develops listening skills
Read to your baby
Reading to your baby comes with an abundance of benefits. And if you are the kind of person that feels uncomfortable singing or speaking aloud to your little one, reading books is an excellent option for you.
Reading develops listening and language comprehensions skills; it stimulates your baby’s brain, introduces new vocabulary, develops problem-solving skills, and is a wonderful way to bond with your baby.
It is never too early to begin reading to your baby. Start with short, board books and read with your baby several times daily. Then, once they are old enough to hold books, babble, and talk, encourage them to “read” to you!
Make eye contact with your baby while speaking
According to research at the University of Cambridge, eye contact with a baby can help sync brain waves, support communication and learning, and aid overall development.
While you don’t need to make eye contact every time you talk to them, be sure to make a conscientious effort to do so as frequently as possible.
Respond to Your Baby’s Babbling
Just as adults appreciate validation during a conversation, babies feel supported and encouraged to continue babbling when someone engages in conversation with them!
When your baby babbles or coos, respond to them in sentences. You can respond to what they seem to be looking at or doing or talk about what you’re doing. For example, if they are playing with a toy, you could say, “Yes, I can see you’re having fun with your elephant toy!” or “You made your toy play music! That’s so much fun!”
It doesn’t matter what you say as long as you use a fun, calm, and cheerful voice and engage your little one in their environment. For example, when you speak to your baby, pause and provide them an opportunity to babble to coo in return; this practice shows them how conversations work, and they will begin to understand that the noises they are making have meaning and are a method of communication.
When to Connect With A Healthcare Professional
As mentioned earlier, all children develop at different rates; however, there are some situations where professional intervention is required to ensure that a child is progressing.
Some signs that a child may need extra assistance are:
- Your baby does not babble or coo
- Your baby is not smiling by six months old
- Your child does not respond to their name or other sounds by six months old
- Your child is unable to understand basic instruction (ex. “grab your jacket”) by age 2
- You notice a severe repetition of words or sounds (similar to a stutter)
- You notice a regression in your child’s speech
- Your child avoids eye contact or was making eye contact and now has stopped
- Your child does not interact with other children by the age of 2
- You have a gut feeling that something is going on.
Speech development sometimes is a long, tedious road for both parent and child. As a parent, your most important role is to be supportive, encouraging, and patient. If you ever suspect that a significant issue is preventing your child from progressing, connect with a childcare professional, pediatrician, or speech therapist for guidance.