Communicating & talking skills

What you need to know:

Communication skills are an essential part of your child's overall development. Your child needs to be able to to hear and understand what is being said to them and then use their verbal language skills to respond. In addition, they will learn to aid their communication using non-verbal skills such as body language, gestures, facial expressions and eye contact.

UnderstandingLanguage developmentHow else are they communicating?
Newborns 0-3 monthsyour 1 month old can hear you and knows your voicecrying and making coo noisesfrom 6 weeks of age, your baby will startle with a loud noise. They will start to make eye contact with you when you to and feed them. They may smile.
Babies 3-12 monthsfrom 6 months of age, they can tell how you are by feeling the tone of your voice and look on your faceIn this period they will initially coo and laugh and play with sounds such as babbling (making repetitive sounds): 'ma-ma-ma-ma'. They will do this in a conversational manner where they will take turns with you to 'talk'.
From 6 months, your baby will be vocalising tunefully, using different volumes and sounds e.g. ga-brrrr-le-dada-mmmm'
From 9 months, they will be making longer sequence of sounds which might sound like normal speech often called jargon.
From 3 months, your baby will turn their head to a sound and will quieten to a familiar voice.

From 6 months your baby will be showing more emotion and copying your sounds, facial expressions and gestures. For example 'raspberries', laughing, squealing, growling and using gestures (e.g. putting their arms up when they want to be carried).
Toddlers 1-3 yearsInitially, your child will have a better understanding of what is being said to them compared to what they can actually say.
Commonly, they will respond to their own name and understand 'no' from 12 months of age.
They will then start to understand simple instructions like 'get your shoes' by 18 months.
Your child will learn a lot of new words by listening to adults.
Gradually, their babbling or jargon will start to include real words.
At 15 months old, they might be able to say a few words.
From 18 months onwards, your child's ability to learn new words explodes to include familiar objects and people, body parts and animal noises.
You might have difficulty understanding them initially, especially when they mix babbling with real words, but their speech should start to get clearer from 2 years onwards.
By 2 years of age, your toddler might be able to say 'I', 'you' and 'me' and use sentences with 2-3 words e.g. 'Mummy drink'.
At 3 years , your child will be able to use sentences of 3-5 words and start asking 'why' to pretty much everything. They will know their name, age and colours. Strangers will probably be able to understand your child most of the time.

As their language is just developing, they might use a variety of gestures and noises to help their communication, such as:
  • to ask for something (ey contact pointing)
  • to let you know what they think (shake head and push spoon away when they have had enough food)
  • to demonstrate understanding (nod, eye contact etc.)

As your child learns to talk, they will start copying how adults talk in conversation. So their voice may go up at the end of a question, or they might start frowning and wagging a finger if they are telling you off.

At 3 years old, they will start learning how to take turns when speaking and you might be able to have a chat with them.

Preschool 3-5 yearsAt 3 years of age, they will understand most things you say and will follow instructions with 2-3 steps about familiar things e.g. 'go to your bedroom and get your jumper'
By 5 years of age, they will enjoy jokes and riddles.
At 3 years old, your child might be able to tell a simple story such as what has really happened during the day. Initially they will need help to put thing in the correct order e.g. Child: 'I go to shop' Parent: 'and what did we buy at the shop?' Child: 'bread'
Later, as their imagination develops, they will start telling 'made up' stories.
By 4 years of age, your child will speak in longer sentences of around 5-6 words. Other people will understand what she/he is saying most of the time.
By 5 years of age, they should be talking fluently. They will understand jokes.

How can I help?

  • Talk with your child, naming and talking about everything and anything. From counting out loud, the steps as you walk down the stairs, to telling them what piece of clothing you are folding when you are doing the laundry. Even if you think your child doesn't understand, talking about what is happening in your daily lives will increase the number of words your child hears. Repetition does help.
  • Build your child's communication skills by:

- noting and commenting on their interest e.g. 'wow, what is that?'

- giving them time to respond back to you e.g. pause whilst looking them in the eye.

- actively listening to what they have to say.

- model the correct answer. whilst ignoring what was wrong e.g. if they say whilst looking at a bus 'look, bus', you would respond "yes it is a bus"

- build on what they have said e.g. look it's red bus, what else is red?

  • Sing to them
  • Start reading to them at an early age. Link the words to the pictures in the book and alson in your own lives. As they get older, pointing to the words as you say them helps them understand the link between written and spoken words to develop their skills in literacy.

Click here to watch a short video with more information.

When should I be concerned?

All children are different when it comes to developing language skills. If you feel there is a difference between your child and other child of a similar age, be reassured that most will catch up. However, it is best to seek professional advice if you see any of the following signs:

When your newborn doesn't:

  • respond to sudden loud noises e.g. ambulance siren, dog barking.
  • turn their heads towards the sound itself.
  • isn't making sounds or responding to loud noises.

By 12 months of age if your baby isn't:

  • turning their heads to soft sounds
  • trying to communicate with you in a variety of ways using sounds, gestures, eye contacts, and/or words, particularly when needing help or wanting something.

By 3 years old, if your toddler:

  • can't understand simple instructions/questions e.g. where's daddy?
  • isn't saying about 50 words
  • doesn't use their words and gestures to try and interact with you e.g. to tell you what they want or need, waving to indicated that they are saying goodbye.
  • uses words that they have unusually and which may be out of context e.g. not be able to link what they are saying with what is actually happening at the time and is copying words/phrases and saying them repeatedly
  • isn't combining two or more words together e.g. more drink
  • isn't pointing to objects to share their interest with others by 2 years of age

By 5 years old, if your child:

  • isn't combining words to make longer sentences to tell you what they need e.g. I want snack or unable to share their interests with you e.g. look, a bus
  • isn't understanding longer instruction e.g. pick up your cup and put it in the the sink
  • uses words unusually e.g. they may have more words than you can count, but they don't use them to talk to people, or if they have parrot like repetitive speech or if they continue to speak in a made up language that you can't understand
  • Takes and sues your hand as a means of getting what they want

When starting school:

  • you can't have a chat with them about things which interest them and you e.g. 'what would you like to have for dinner today?' 'What do you think mummy would like to do for her birthday?'

You should be concerned at any age if your child stops doing what they were previously able to do so.

Where can I get help?

If you think your child is having trouble with communicating and talking to you, discuss your concerns with a professional such as a health visitor, GP, nursery/school teacher who can provide advice and consider whether they may require a referral to a speech and language therapist or GP.

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