Your baby's first word is an exciting milestone, both for your child and for you. While you're eagerly listening for your child's first words, phrases and sentences, it can be hard not to feel a bit anxious, especially if it seems like other children the same age are talking before yours. When do babies start talking? Why isn't my child speaking yet? Is he or she developing normally? Am I doing something wrong?
Deep breaths, mama. Every child reaches verbal milestones at their own pace, and there's a wide range of "normal." In fact, most developmental milestones are guidelines. Some babies will reach them early and some later.
While it's helpful to understand what's considered typical, if a child has not reached a milestone by a specified age, it does not mean there's an immediate cause for concern. It just means you'll want to keep a close eye on how your child's language is developing, and consult your pediatrician or a speech-language pathologist with your observations.
Here's what to know about when babies start talking, including typical speech and language development milestones to watch for.
As their speech and language skills develop, children should demonstrate progress in both receptive language (understanding what is being said to them) and expressive language (communicating wants, needs and thoughts).
Here's a quick set of guidelines for what's considered typical by age, according to the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association.
Language skills to look for from 0-3 months
Receptive language: Babies should show signs of hearing, such as recognizing a familiar person's voice and startling in response to loud sounds.
Expressive language: Babies should also be testing their voice by crying and cooing. As they grow, they will begin to react to different types of sounds and increase the variety of sounds they are making.
Language skills to look for from 3-12 months
Receptive language: By one year, children should show signs of simple receptive language skills that include recognizing simple words for everyday items, reacting to their name, looking where you point, playing simple games, and attending to short activities and stories.
Expressive language: Children up to one year old often babble repetitive syllables such as "bababa" or "mamama" and use gestures to express what they want. They will typically have a couple words in their vocabulary by the end of their first year.
Language skills to look for from 12-24 months
Receptive language: Between the ages of one to two, children will begin to point to body parts when asked, respond to simple directions and questions, and point to familiar pictures and objects when asked.
Expressive language: This is also the age when children begin to blossom with new words, especially around 18 months to 2 years. It is common for children to have 50 words or so by the time they are two years old. They will also begin to use two-word phrases and questions.
What if my child is not babbling or speaking like they should?
Many factors can contribute to a child's not reaching these speech milestones exactly on time, and it's important to remember that missing a developmental milestone doesn't necessarily indicate a speech-language disorder. However, if there is a delay, it is essential to speak to your pediatrician and a speech-language pathologist. For children who may not outgrow delayed speech, early intervention is critical. Specialists will be able to help determine if intervention is necessary.
If at any age, you have concerns your child is not hearing, speak to your pediatrician immediately. Difficulty hearing at a young age can significantly affect a child's development in various ways. Keep in mind children who pass hearing tests as babies can still develop hearing problems later.
What can I do to encourage my child's speech?
There are multiple ways parents and caregivers can help nurture your child's speech development.
- Look at your child when you are talking. Children learn through observation and imitation. Let them see your face as you make early babbling sounds. Focus on early developing sounds such as b, p, d, m and vowels.
- Respond to your baby. When your little one makes faces or sounds, respond to them by mimicking their actions or by having a simple conversation. Your child will learn that gestures and words receive reactions, an important concept for early communication skills.
- Take advantage of routine moments. Life with kids is busy, and it can be challenging to set aside time to work on communication. However, everyday routines can provide perfect opportunities. Talk to your child and practice speech and language skills during daily activities such as diaper changes, feedings, shopping cart rides, and baths.
- Encourage vocalizations with gestures. Children typically communicate with gestures before words. They will point to a cup when they want a drink or reach for a toy up on a shelf. This is an excellent demonstration of early expressive language skills, and it can become easy for parents and their children to communicate and anticipate needs without the use of vocalizations. Encourage your child to say the name of what they are asking for; even if it is only a simple sound the first few tries.
- Expand on what your child says. When your child begins to say simple words, acknowledge that you heard them, and use their word in a slightly longer phrase. For example, if your child says "car," respond with "Yes, that is a fast blue car" or "Do you want the blue car?" This will help them learn how simple words are used in meaningful phrases.
- Read to your child. Reading is a great way to encourage early communication and narrative skills, as well as a healthy bonding activity for you and your child.