Are the neighbors’ kids already forming complete sentences while yours is still repeating only “mama” and “papa”? Yes, we know it’s nerve-wracking to see other kids talking while yours is radio silent. But the first rule of maternity says: never compare your child with other babies. Each child has their own developmental rhythm. It could be that they’re just shy, are scared of making mistakes, or are just focusing their energy on acquiring other abilities. Don’t we operate the same way?

That being said, let’s get down to it: there is a way to gauge whether this behavior is normal or not. And, the age of two tends to be a mark for a jump in language development. The final word, however, belongs to the doctor, right?

Medical literature will tell you the baby should be saying their first words by the time they turn one, being that their first words are just a mash-up of syllables – mama and papa – which could happen anywhere between six and nine months of age, depending on the child. By the time they reach the age of two, they’re already capable of saying their first words in simple phrases, joining at least two words: “Want this” or “No this.” They will also start to follow along with certain songs.

Some speech therapists say that, as they near the two-year mark, the child should have a vocabulary of at least 200 words. Don’t get too attached to that number! In reality, they only average about 50 words. But, more important than speaking is communicating. Can your child make themselves understood? Do they look into the eyes of the person they’re speaking to? Are you the only one capable of understanding what they say, or do other people comprehend what they’re saying as well? Do they obey simple commands such as “Bring your shoe over here”? If so, give them time and stimulate them in the best way possible: talking, singing, and reading.

When should you worry?

At any point in time, you can clear some doubts with their pediatrician and take your child to a speech therapist, of course. However, it would be best if you didn’t worry that much before the child turns three. If, when they reach that age, they’re still unable to articulate words and form simple sentences, then you should investigate further – and it might be that there’s no problem, remember that. Renowned scientist Albert Einstein, for example, told biographer Carl Seelig that his parents were worried about his late speech development – according to him, this should happen around the age of three.

Know that there are situations where children who basically don’t speak at all suddenly, from one day to the other, like magic, wake up talking more and more each day. It could also happen that, until they turn two, the child only says the first syllable of each word, all at once, “relaxing” their tongue.

Signs there’s a speech impediment issue

Some phases are more important and you should pay attention to them (you have also gone through most of these):

6 months: If the child stops responding to speaking to them, it could be a sign of auditory problems.

1 year and 3 months: If they still don’t say a single word, no one understands what they say, or they don’t communicate through gesturing, it’s worth commenting with the pediatrician.

2 years: If they can’t put together two words, don’t participate in make-believe, and cannot point to things when questioned, be on high alert. Besides, the expectation is that they have learned one new word per week in the last few months.

3 years: If they switch syllables or frequently omits consonants, if strangers have difficulty understanding what they’re saying, if they don’t respond to commands and stutter or become nervous when speaking, it’s worth consulting with a specialist.

4 years: Children at this age should not mix up and switch letters (such as L for R) and can already use pronouns.

How to stimulate speech

  • Interacting with other children seems to be quite the stimulus. It’s not uncommon for parents to complain that their child cannot speak and, suddenly, as they attend daycare, their speech develops overnight!
  • Read, and read a lot. Reading to your child increases their vocabulary and stimulates language.
  • Please do not attempt to finish their sentences for them. Allow them to follow their own rhythm and finish what they started.
  • Many children can act really lazy. Start by asking what they want when they point at something. “Do you want water?” Better yet, ask yes or no questions to stimulate a different response: “I didn’t understand. Do you want water or bread?”
  • Try to name everything when talking to your child: “Let’s put the green shirt on?” instead of “Let’s put on this shirt?” This helps amplify their vocabulary.
  • Don’t use a baby voice, nor should you repeat how the baby incorrectly said a word, as cute as it might sound. Whenever possible, correct them without pressure, judgment, and without framing it as an error your child made. They are simply learning and will learn a lot faster if the approach is lighter and calmer.