Text by Kira Vermond
When my son was 18 months old, a mom whose toddler attended the same daycare as mine approached me in the hall. “What do you do to make him talk like that?” she demanded, referring to my son’s blossoming vocabulary. While many of the other toddlers were throwing out words such as “ba-ba” for bottle, Nathan was stringing together phrases like, “mommy, up “ and “want milk.”
“Nothing,” I responded, taken a little aback. Other than being “a talker” myself and making the effort to chat with my son as I changed diapers or while we played on the floor, I certainly wasn’t trying to push early conversation. Language and speech take place at different rates for different kids, right?
Right, says Sarah Fitzgerald, a children’s speech-language pathologist in private practice in Victoria. “Some children are experts in the language areas, some are more physical, and others are better at math,” says Fitzgerald. While it’s important to check your child against speech and language milestones (see “Talking Points,” right), she says, kids don’t always progress the way the books say they will. For example, it took Nathan longer than his peers to learn how to toss a ball, even though he could say “trow ball” sooner.
But what if you think your child is actually struggling? Suzanne Ethier, a Guelph, Ont., mom, realized her son Zachary was falling behind because he was still making grunting sounds and pointing at 18 months. Meanwhile, a little boy of the same age down the street boasted an expansive vocabulary, using phrases like, “all gone” and “in box.” (Indeed, around 18 months, many toddlers have what’s known as a “language explosion,” during which they’ll acquire words at an incredible rate. So if your child isn’t quite there yet, the difference can seem dramatic.)
Ethier worried the chasm was too large. She had her son tested and discovered her suspicions were bang on ““ Zachary did have a mild speech delay. She got him on the waiting list for speech therapy, and two-and-a-half years later, Zachary is an articulate, funny little boy who is much easier to understand. If there’s really something wrong, your instincts will likely tell you. “I just knew my own child,” says Ethier.
Like many parents, chances are you may worry unnecessarily, but there are some things you can do to help the process along ““ as much for your own benefit as your child’s. A frustrated toddler who can’t tell you she’s longing for a cup of milk is a heck of a lot more difficult to be around than one who can communicate well.
> Make sure your child can see your face as you talk to her.
> Praise efforts, but don’t go overboard. That makes some kids anxious.
> Sing songs, use short sentences, talk simply and clearly.
> Read, read, read!
> Try the expansion technique. If she says “car,” reply with “fast car,” or with “blue car.”
Above all, remember that while learning to talk is obviously important, it’s got to be fun, too.
Here’s how to know whether your child’s speech is in a normal range, from the Canadian Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists.
> Understands his name and common words with gestures (like “bye-bye”)
> Says sounds like “ba-ba, na-na, ma-ma”
> Sings, laughs or imitates others
> Understands simple questions like “Where is your nose?”
> Makes gestures or asks for “more” or “again”
> Babbles in a sentence-like manner
> Understands more words than she can say
> Uses two-word sentences
> Understands simple directions such as “Get your coat”