Written By: Erin McQuivey, Speech-Language Pathologist at Primary Children’s Hospital
When I share that I’m a speech pathologist, people often ask: When should I be concerned about my child’s speech? Here are some tips on how to encourage speech with your child — and how you can tell if your child needs extra help.
What to Look For
Children generally use first words around 12 months of age. They use a variety of gestures and words to get your attention, let you know when they want something or connect with you. A significant landmark we look for is what they’re doing at age 2. By this time, children should be using two-word combinations — hi mom, want milk, more juice — and be understood by strangers 50 percent of the time. While there can be variation in language development during this time, if your child is not meeting or anticipating to meet these milestones, it’s the perfect time to see a speech therapist to rule out other communication disorders. This is a critical developmental period. Consider that at 2 years old, children can have an expected vocabulary of 200 words. By 3 years old, a child’s expected vocabulary jumps to 3,000 words!
How to Help Improve Your Child’s Speech
You can encourage your child’s speech development as well as their self-confidence and social skills by talking with them at home. Here are some specific strategies you can use:
Tune in and talk slowly. Listen to what your child says, look at them, let them talk.
Make it fun. Talk about the things the child is interested in.
Look at your child at your child’s eye level. Talking is most helpful if your child can see your face, especially your mouth.
Talk about what you’re doing. Talk about the objects your child is playing with and label everything.
Interpret for your child. When he or she points and says “dah,” you point and say “Look, bird!”
Repeat words and phrases often. Pleasant repetition of the same word gives your child many opportunities to listen, understand and imitate.
Build on their words. If your child says one word, repeat it and add another. For example if your child says “ball” you can respond by saying,” want ball,” “throw ball,” my ball,” or “ball go.”
Simplify the environment. Turn off distractions. Make your voice the center of attention. Engage in fun activities, such as singing songs, reading books, or blowing bubbles.
Clarify the meaning of your child’s speech when it’s unclear. Interpret what they say. Children often make sounds or babble with an adult-like affect. Interpret what you think they’d say and repeat it back to them.
Praise! Make your child feel special. Be positive and supportive when they use gestures, sounds or words to communicate.
If you have further concerns, please consult with your pediatrician or primary care provider. Primary Children’s offers speech therapy at the main hospital campus and at clinics in Ogden, Bountiful, Taylorsville and Riverton. For more information, call (801) 387-6603.
Primary Children’s Hospital ranks among the best children's hospitals. Located in scenic Utah, everything in our hospital is focused on providing the best care for children. For more than 90 years, we have been committed to helping children, families, and communities across the western United States.