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Developmental Milestones: How many words should my toddler say?

Developmental milestones can often send parents into a spin – particularly those who are first-time parents. We live in a world of comparisons and impossible standards so, unfortunately, we also do this when it comes to our children. The parent at Gymbaroo may be listening anxiously to the other babies babbling away and wonder why hers isn’t there yet. The father at the park may be nervous about the way his toddler speaks when compared to the others he can hear.

Toddler playing with bubbles outside | Developmental Milestones

Concerns about the way our children develop are natural and show that parents care deeply about their children. Any worry should be alleviated by a visit to a speech therapist. If a problem is located, your child’s speech therapist will be able to put an appropriate therapy plan in place with strategies catered to help your child get to where they would like to be. Contact your local speech therapist for an assessment. While a GP does not need to provide you with a specific referral to see a speech pathologist, they may be able to help you learn about funding options that your child may be entitled to.

Before that point, however, here is an overview of the speech developmental milestones seen in the early years of childhood. Thank you to the Raising Children Network for the following information.

Language Development in the Early Years

Language development is crucial in the early years of childhood. In fact, a child’s receptive (understanding) and expressive language abilities will be developing from birth.

3-4 months developmental milestones

  • Eye contact begins
  • A babble combination of sounds (vowels and consonants) like ‘ba ba ba’
  • Sound combinations that seem to form small phrases like ‘ah goo’

5-7 months developmental milestones

  • Mimic your gestures and sounds (coughing, laughing, raspberries)
  • Experiment with sounds and draw out syllables and letters (aaaahhhhhhhh, aiiiieeeeeee)
  • Play with pitch and volume

8-9 months developmental milestones

  • Sequencing of sound begins (sounds like a normal sentence but you can’t understand the words) known as the ‘jargon phase’
  • Might say ‘mama’ or ‘dada’ but is not always able to connect meaning to these sounds

10-11 months developmental milestones

  • Purposeful communication begins and the child is able to communicate intent. The ability to request, insist, refuse, reject and greet are in their control.
  • Can communicate to ‘ask’ for something by pointing

12-18 months developmental milestones

  • Small words can now be said and be attached to meaning
  • Names of things are known (cup, doll, tummy, hat)
  • Vocabulary steadily increases
  • Simple instructions may be understood
  • By 18 months, child will most likely know their name and autonomy begins to develop
  • Mispronunciation is common, as a child’s speech sound system is also developing at this stage

18 months – 2 years developmental milestones

  • Words can be put together into short sentences
  • Children will have nouns (the names of things and objects-‘ball’), verbs (doing words-‘push!’) and simple adjectives (describing words – ‘yuck’)
  • If baby does not have words by 18 months, seek medical advice

2-3 years developmental milestones

  • Longer, more complex sentences develop
  • Pronunciation becomes clearer and people outside of your immediate family should be able to understand your child’s speech. In fact, a child should be understood by an unfamiliar listener 75% of the time
  • Play and talk will occur at the same time
  • Your child will be using their language to share stories of things that have happened

Mum reading book to child on bed

Signs your child might benefit from speech therapy

“Normal” development is a very broad range when it comes to developmental milestones. It is vital to seek the professional assistance of a speech therapist if you have concerns about your child so they can assess if any difficulties are arising.

You might want to seek professional advice if:

  • Your child is not forming vowels and consonants
  • Your child is struggling with eye contact
  • Your child is between 12-18 months and is not using words
  • Your child did not babble

How to encourage developmental milestones in the home

The most important thing you can do for your child is talk to them and communicate with them. This will help their language to develop as well as provide an important emotional connection. Language development is where core social and thinking skills begin.

Respond to your child’s attempts at communication but also ‘narrate’ what you are doing as much as is possible. Involve your child in simple tasks and talk through what’s going on. Ask them questions even if they can’t respond – this is a great way to teach.

Spend time reading with your child every day (or as often as you can). This is where meaning and function of words are learned as well as the understanding of narrative forms.

Developmental Milestones of Speech

Please keep in mind that while every child is different, we do expect children to meet their developmental milestones in a predicted time-frame. A delay in reaching a milestone may indicate that your child is experiencing difficulty. Do what is best for your family at all times and seek professional help if you have any concerns.


Developmental Milestones: How many words should my toddler say?

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  1. 23/07/2018 / 12:45 pm

    It can certainly been a bit worrying when a child doesn’t meet the milestones. That’s what happened with our son and expert intervention is definitely good for peace of mind. We don’t get given a text book when we have kids!

  2. 23/07/2018 / 2:54 pm

    I thought no sometimes we can get a bit hung up on milestones. Some kids develop and reach these faster, others just take their own sweet time however we do know within ourselves when something’s just not right.

  3. Felicity
    23/07/2018 / 9:21 pm

    What a great guide – can be so stressful knowing what stage your bub should be at and what’s normal!

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