Hearing your baby utter his or her first word is a magical moment, for both of you! But when is that supposed to happen? And what happens next?
The period between ages one and two is an exciting time in your child’s overall development, but especially when it comes to speech and language. In this article, we’ll go over what to expect, how to support that speech development, and when to seek help.
What are Baby Talking “Milestones”?
The first three years of a child’s speech and language development is some of the most intense, as their brains are rapidly growing and absorbing all kinds of information. Most achieve baby-talking milestones between 10-14 months of age and are quick to develop other language skills. As Allison, mother of two boys, put it, “Hearing a first word feels like crossing a finish line in a race and gets you excited to continue running!”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, developmental milestones “are things that most children can do by a certain age.” Language milestones, you guessed it, are specifically related to how well a child is speaking and listening. These milestones are certainly measured through their ability to learn and speak, but also through observed play, action, and movement. They are markers in receptive (hearing and understanding) and expressive (speech) progressions, helping you and health practitioners know if your child is on track.
So what are these milestones? Let’s look at them now.
Baby Talking Milestones at 12 Months
By now your baby has said their first word or soon will! Here are some other milestones he or she should have reached:
- Follows simple directions, such as “come here” or “sit down”
- Knows their name and responds to it
- Imitates your speech with babbling that includes vowel sounds
- Watches your eyes and looks where you’re looking
- Uses physical gestures – think about that adorable wave “bye-bye” or the not-always adorable shake of the head “no”
- Has a vocabulary of about 1-3 words, hopefully, to include “mama” or “dada”!
Baby Talking Milestones at 13 – 18 Months
Development is picking up! Their vocabulary is growing and they’re associating words with objects, like body parts, which kids are naturally curious about and are always on-hand for language practice!
Milestones during this period are:
- Makes requests verbally – think “water” or “up”
- Follows additional simple directions
- Knows 1-3 body parts
- Imitates one-word phrases and repeats words from conversations they overhear (watch out!)
- Has a vocabulary of 3-20 words, probably mostly nouns, like cat, milk, etc.
Baby Talking Milestones at 19 – 24 Months
Here’s when things really get going! Not only will communicating with your little one get more interactive but by 24 months you’ll really have a sense of whether or not your child is on track with their speech development.
Here are the milestones you can look forward to:
- Uses real words more than babble talk and can be understood at least 50% of the time
- Knows most of the body parts
- Uses pronouns, like “me” and “you,” though not always in the right context!
- Responds to “no” and follows more complex instructions, like “eat your banana” or “find your socks”
- Vocabulary increases dramatically to 50-100 words
- Starts forming sentences with 2-4 words, though pronunciation will vary
- Identifies pictures of objects in a book when named and can label familiar objects
Again, milestones are important indicators, but should be approached with your child in mind and with the guidance of health care professionals. In a Parents.com article, Dr. Rahil Briggs at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City reminds us, “Every child develops on his own timeline.”
After reading an article listing the baby talking milestones, Allison became concerned that her older son didn’t have as many “real” words in his vocabulary as he should. She consulted with the pediatrician who explained that even “nonsense words” count as words if they are being used to convey meaning. For example, if your child always says ‘gluk’ when they want milk, that counts as a word. And if he says ‘moo’ when he sees a cow, it’s a word too. “At that point,” Allison says, “I was no longer worried, as all of those things were going on and he was on his way to a robust vocabulary.”
How to Support Your Child’s Speech Development
Just like adults, a child’s speech and language flourish in an environment filled with a variety of sights and sounds and, of course, exposure to other speech and language!
Here is a list of various ideas, some from The Mayo Clinic, on how to encourage your child’s speech development:
- Expose them to new sights and sounds – the park, the zoo, children’s museums, etc.
- Listen to music together
- Sing to them – “Can you say shoes? Let’s sing it…shoes, shoes. We put on our shoes!”
- Read books together and have them point out objects in the pictures
- Go to story hour at your local library
- Play together and talk about what you’re doing
- Practice counting numbers
- Teach them to imitate sounds and motions. “Old McDonald’s Farm” and the “Wheels on the Bus” are still classics!
Most importantly, interact and talk to your child! Dr. Briggs says, “the best way to help develop your baby’s language skills is to simply talk to him.” Not only does it help them, but it will keep you attuned to how they’re doing.
When Things Don’t Seem to be Progressing
There is no perfect formula that fits each child. The ultimate goal is that your child increases their vocabulary and language abilities while also becoming more and more receptive to what’s being said to them.
However, if your child hasn’t reached most of the milestones for their age or if you’re concerned there might be a speech delay, then it’s time for a visit to your child’s pediatrician. The pediatrician will already be monitoring overall development, including language, but you should bring any concerns to their attention. If necessary, the pediatrician will refer you to an audiologist or speech-language pathologist for additional evaluations and support.
For Erika, it became clear there was a concern when her two-year-old son still had no “conventional” vocabulary, not even “mama” or “dada.” The good news is that with a referral to a speech pathologist and the ongoing help of a play-based speech therapist and county programs, her son was able to overcome his speech disorder. Today he’s a happy 11-year-old not held back by speech issues.
The National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) also provides a handy checklist of speech and language milestones from birth to the age of 5, which you can use to monitor your child’s development and reference during doctor’s visits.
While watching your child’s speech and language skills develop is exciting, we understand it can also be fraught with uncertainty and concern.
By taking the time to familiarize yourself with these baby-talking milestones and interact with your child, some of that anxiety will be alleviated so you can spend more time enjoying your child’s successes. Remember that your pediatrician and other specialists are available to provide resources and support if needed.
To discuss this or any other concerns sign up for 24/7 pediatric services online with Blueberry Pediatrics.