When Should Toddlers Start Talking?

When Should Toddlers Start Talking?

Any parent knows that reading a baby development book is not without its perils. That inner panic that sets in when your little one isn’t doing exactly what they are ‘supposed’ to be doing at 15 months. Then there’s your friend’s baby who is already speaking Mandarin at 18 months. Really??


Nothing can beat the first time your child utters their first words but when should you expect this to happen? Some experts cite a baby’s first birthday as the time you could expect both first words and first steps. This means it can be an exciting time for parents but also worrying if your child isn’t doing what’s ‘expected’.


As with most areas of child development there is actually a very wide window during which they are likely to begin to speak. Most will manage their first words between 10 and 14 months but sometimes children might not manage a comprehensible word until 18 months. And if this is your second or third child then you may well be happy for this delay as we know that once they start they don’t stop!

What counts as a ‘word’?
The first thing to consider is that your child may well be forming ‘words’ and it’s just that they are not ones you recognise. For example many children will use ‘da’ (presumably from ‘that’) indicating an object to mean ‘what is that?’ ‘I want that’ or ‘give me that’ which is often the first way a child can make themselves understood.


Should we be worried?
If you are worried, the first thing to do is check their hearing and comprehension. Do they seem able to hear you? Do they respond if you call to them from another room or if you talk from behind them? Comprehension is a bit harder to assess in a toddler as they will quite often choose not to follow instructions, but think about how they respond to the things you say that indicate they knows what you are saying. Does they smile if you suggest getting a biscuit or grab their shoes when you talk about going to the park? 

A progress checker like the one found on www.talkingpoint.org.uk will take you through a number of questions about how your child is developing to highlight any possible problems. If you think there might be a problem it’s best to mention it to your GP or Health Visitor but otherwise it’s probably just a matter of time before those words start coming.


What might affect language development?
Many things have been identified as having an effect on when a child starts to talk. Children are likely to follow similar patterns to their parents.  Some people think that boys are likely to talk later than girls and first children, who have more adult interaction, may talk sooner than children in group childcare situations, where they have to try harder to make themselves understood. Having said that the biggest factor is likely to be the child’s own development timetable and it does seem that many children who are slow to start talking will actually catch up with those early chatter boxes by the time they are three or four.


How can you encourage talking?
Even though your child will progress at their own rate there are things which can help them on their way. Make sure you:

  • Talk to them– hearing people talk is the only way to learn the meaning and form of words
  • Listen to them – even when you don’t understand the baby talk, respond with something like ‘really, how interesting’ or ‘I think so too, darling’ to carry on the conversation
  • Read to them – repeating the same picture books and simple stories help to develop words that might not come up so much in day to day life
  • Sing with them – becoming familiar with a tune along with the words provides a different way for them to remember the sounds
  • Ask them questions – Some of their first (and to them, most useful) words are likely to be yes and no so give them the chance to develop these by asking simple questions like ‘do you want some juice?’ and responding to their grunts/head shakes/points by restating what you think they are trying to say. ‘Yes, you do want some, great, here you go...’


Most important of all, don’t let yourself get too worried. You’ll be amazed how quickly those words arrive once they get those first one or two but if you want to put your mind at rest about a problem talk to your GP or Health Visitor who will be able to make an assessment and no doubt put your mind at rest.