Toddler milestone: Understanding speech and concepts

Toddler milestone: Understanding speech and concepts

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Even before your baby knew the meaning of the words you used, he picked up on the emotions behind them (such as love, concern, anxiety, and anger). By the time he was 4 months old, he recognized his own name, and by 8 to 12 months he understood and could respond to simple requests such as "No" or "Don't touch." The older he gets, the more detailed his understanding of language becomes. Here are some of the developmental highlights you can look forward to in this area during the toddler years.

When and how speech develops

12 to 18 months
Your toddler may not be saying much yet, but his ears are wide open and he's eagerly absorbing all kinds of information. He's starting to comprehend the world he lives in: When you name a common household object, such as a chair or a ball, he'll show that he knows what you're talking about by looking at it or pointing to it. You can help him by labeling things as you talk to him; he may be particularly interested in names for things he sees and uses everyday, like "spoon" and "car." And many toddlers love to learn the names of different animals and the sounds they make. When he hears "duck" he immediately thinks "quack." He's also learning his own body parts; though he may not be able to name them all yet, he'll know what you're referring to when you say "nose" and point to his nose. Build on this by playing naming games with body parts: "Where is your nose? Oh, there it is!"

By 18 months, your toddler may be speaking only a few words — five to 20 is typical — but he'll understand about 50 to 100. And he'll be able to understand and begin to follow your directions even if they involve two separate actions. For example, he'll understand "Pick up those building blocks and put them in the toy chest."

19 to 24 Months
By now, your child can understand simple questions such as "Do you want more milk?" He may be using 75 to 200 words, actually understands several hundred of them, and is capable of paying attention to what you say. Around this time he'll start showing off his knowledge by putting together simple sentences. These sentences will likely consist of a noun and a verb and be directly related to his life, like "Dog bark" or "Go car."

When you're reading a picture book to your child, ask him to point out particular items. You'll be pleasantly surprised when he can pick out a cow or a duck. Though he may not use the word in his own speech, he knows what it is.

Your child is also beginning to understand that his wants may not necessarily converge with yours. When you disagree with him — perhaps over which toy you want to play with during your afternoon play session — he'll understand that you may have a different favorite toy than he does. He may start to feel possessive of his favorites, letting you know which toys he thinks are "his." He'll also try to assert himself — folding his arms resolutely under his armpits when you want him to hold your hand, for example.

25 to 30 months
Between ages 2 and 3, your child develops a pretty good understanding of language. Development experts say most 2-year-olds understand at least 200 to 300 words and add as many as 10 new ones to their vocabulary every day. By now, your child may also be able to understand and respond to who, where, and what questions. If you ask him, "Who loves you?" for example, he'll probably point to you or say "Mommy" or "Daddy."

31 to 36 months
By the time he's 3, the vocabulary your child understands will be quite extensive, numbering as many as 900 words. Of these, he'll use about 300 regularly. It's not just quantity, though. His vocabulary is increasing in quality, too. He's beginning to truly understand adjectives, such as dirty and clean. He's also expanding his grasp of common verbs, such as walk, run, or play, and prepositions such as over, under, and behind. Ask him to sort pictures of objects into categories and he'll be able to put the toys in one pile, the clothes in another, and so on.

When to be concerned

If by the age 3 your child seems to have trouble understanding the simplest directions and suggestions, or if a period of three to six months passes where his communication skills don't progress at all, talk to his doctor. Also consider consulting his pediatrician if others can't understand him most of the time or if he's still dependent on physical gestures to communicate (like pointing to the cookie jar instead of asking for a cookie). For a more detailed discussion of when to worry, see our warning signs of a language delay.

What comes next

The number of words your child can understand and say will continue to grow rapidly. By the time he reaches age 4, he'll be speaking in sentences that can be understood by people unfamiliar with him, and he''ll understand everyday conversations. In the next few years, he'll begin to comprehend ever more intricate constructions such as complex commands and sentences that link past, present, and future events.

Watch the video: Overview of possible causes and types of problems in speech development (June 2022).