My toddler isn’t talking yet. How can I help them?

Language delay is when a child has difficultly speaking compared to others in their age group. It is very common in children around two years old. Many will have completely caught up by the age of four or five.

Average development for a two year old

Late talkers may have trouble saying their first words or expanding their vocabulary – or it may be that they struggle to put words together even in very simple sentences. By around two years old, most children can put two words together. “Dadda, up” for example. They will also be able to respond to basic questions, such as, “Would you like more?” or “Where’s the doggy?”. By 24 months, most children will know up to 100 words, including some colours and body parts.

Children develop at different rates

There are many reasons why children learn to speak at different rates. Sometimes it can be as simple as another sibling communicates on their behalf. While some children (those with hearing loss or who have been diagnosed with a particular condition or syndrome) will certainly need extra help and expert resources, often, children simply need a great deal of patience, interaction, and compassion to catch up with their peers.

Ideas to encourage and support language development

If you notice your child is a late talker, here are some of the first things you can do to give them the best chance of catching up and developing their speaking skills.

1. Read to your toddler every day to expose them to both new and familiar words as much as possible. It takes time and repetition for a child to remember and fully comprehend a word’s meaning, so regular reading time together is crucial.

2. From about six months old, you can teach your child some very basic sign language to give them more than one form of communication. Some of the first signs include: ‘sleep’, ‘hungry’, ‘drink, ‘more’, ‘up’ and ‘all done’.

3. Talk to your child (or sing!) as much as you can, explaining what you are doing and what you are seeing so they get used to listening and understanding context.

4. Limit screen time for both you and them – real-life interaction is far more beneficial for learning than a mobile device.

5. Frequently name items around you, especially if your child points to them and patiently encourage them to repeat the words.

The image shows the front cover of a picture storybook called Seb the Seahorse. The book is published by Miles Kelly, written by Catherine Veitch and illustrated by Sophia Touliatou. The cover illustration shows a cute yellow seahorse among some seaweed and anemones looking down at a happy little fish.
The image shows two facing pages from inside the picture storybook, Seb the Seahorse. The full colour scene shows Seb with some other sea creatures on the sandy seafloor. There are fish, crabs, worms and coral. Seb is holding onto a strand of seaweed with his little tail.
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