Posted in baby, parenting

Language Development in Babies and Toddlers

I had the opportunity to talk to language development specialist, Rachel, about how to encourage your babies and toddlers to start talking. To hear the full interview, use the media player above. If you prefer to read it, the transcription of the episode is below. Enjoy!

Nicoll
Hi, everybody. This is the Mastering Motherhood Podcast, and I’m your host, Nicoll. This show is made by a mom, me, for moms. Covering pregnancy, postpartum and parenthood topics as we go through this motherhood journey together. Today we have Rachel on the show to talk about language development. Rachel is an early intervention teacher and parenting coach who works with parents through their unique struggles to get them living their best family life. Welcome, Rachel.


Rachel
Hi. Thank you so much for having me.


Nicoll
Tell the listeners a little bit more about yourself.


Rachel
So as Nikki mentions, I help busy moms gain peace and overcome daily struggles with young children. I specialize in babies and toddlers through early childhood, and that’s what I work on individually with parent coaching as well as individually with early intervention. So I’m here to help you with all your early childhood needs.


Nicoll
Tell me a little bit more about what parenting coach means. I’ve never heard that before.


Rachel
Well, a parent and coach is when you are having some struggles or some difficulties in your home with your young children or even with you, that you’re unsure of the decisions that you’re making and what’s happening with your children. I would be there to help you. So if you’re having trouble with bedtime, and I could help you put in place a bedtime routine and things to follow along to help your child go to bed at an appropriate time for the child’s age. If they’re having trouble eating and you need help with meals or how to get them to sit and not watch the TV and eat a meal, I can help you implement strategies to make your day just a little bit easier. So you’re not struggling all the time.


Nicoll
Rachel, why didn’t I meet you sooner? That sounds amazing.


Rachel
Thank you.


Nicoll
So I want to talk about language development. Um, I have a son. He is seven months old, so it’s kind of like front of mind for me and…just…I… So let’s start with at what age should kids start talking?


Rachel
Okay, well, what I first want to explain is that everything doesn’t happen at a specific age. I want parents to know that language development happens in stages and in different ages. So when you’re talking at the playground with another mom and they say my 11 month old says three words. And you think, well, mine doesn’t say anything. It’s okay, but maybe by 13 months, by 15 months you’re going to hear those words. And what I also want to explain is that there are typical words that we all know. Mom, dad, car, ball, bye. There are words at that stage at 12 months at 18 months, where it may not be a typical word, it could be what they use for a specific item. So, like if your child says “wah-wah” for water and only uses that word, that approximation for water, that counts as a word because even though it’s…yeah, even though it’s not a word that you would use, if they only use it for that one specific item, they are communicating with you that this is what they want. So even though it’s not the full word “water”, if they use that only for the specific item and not just walking around the house babbling, if they’re using it as a word, as a form of communication, it is a word. And sometimes that’s hard for parents to see. Those are counted as words in…into also being together with “hi,” “bye,” “mom,” “dad” and all those other words that you want to hear, you want, hearing both a typical word and a non-typical word, is part of development.


Nicoll
Oh, that’s awesome. I’m so glad that you talked about how language happens in stages and not at an age, because I’ll tell you, I’m very guilty of constantly Googling at what age should my son be saying his first word. You know, when I get a result like 6 to 8 months and then, you know it…he’s seven months. You haven’t said…he hasn’t said a word, and then I’m panicking. And then I have other mom friends who their seven-month-old has said like “mama” and I’m like, “Oh my gosh,” it’s like, should I be doing more? And so I’m relieved to hear you say that.


Rachel
It is, and I hear so many parents. Language is something that I talk about so often because it’s really a concern. Just like you said, you’re at the playground, you’re talking other moms and you hear that their kids are saying this and your kid isn’t. And it’s when you’re at 12 months. When your child is 12 months and 14 months, it’s not the time to worry because things do happen and really between 18 and 24 months between a year and 1/2 and two years old, that’s when you will see the most abundance of language. They could have a new word every day, where four months ago they only had a few words. That’s really when language starts to double and multiply during during that on span of ages.


Nicoll
Wow. So are there milestones that parents should be looking out for? Like at what point should they talk to their doctor if they’re concerned?


Rachel
Okay, well, let me give you a few little things, a few guidelines. I’m not going to give you a specific amount of words that you should have at a certain point. But other things that you can look for between 12 and 18 months, they might start to say some common words, Mama, Dada, hi, bye, those words that we say. But you also want to see if they’re getting your attention for what they want. So even if they don’t have the language, if they’re pulling you to the kitchen to show you, okay? I need to eat, but I don’t have that word yet. I’m pulling you to the kitchen, and if they are pointing to things, they’re showing you in a nonverbal way that they want something, and also that they understand what you’re saying but necessarily can’t answer you verbally. Those are important things to look at between 12 and 18 months that if you tell your little one, “pick up the car” or “get the ball,” they can understand you even if they don’t have a verbal way to respond. And then by 18 to 24 months you want a little bit more words to start to form and even where they can start to put two words together. So it’s not a sentence. It’s a phrase. It’s “more cookie,” “mama milk.” It’s two words together to start to make their own phrase, and you want to see a little bit less of the pulling and more of the words coming out. So these are things that I want parents to look at, too, because I always ask,” Are they communicating with you in another way, without the words? Are they pulling you? Are they pointing to something?” And that’s a form of communication too, it’s just not expressive. It’s nonverbal communication, and that comes first before the language comes. But I always tell any parent that living in the U.S., evaluations are free. So if you really are concerned and you’re really worried, you should look to get an evaluation now. That being said, most doctors wait until after two because, like I said, between 18 months and 24 months is really where you see the most abundance of language developed. So many doctors do wait until after that to really see if they’ve reached milestones and how they’re progressing.


Nicoll
How is the evaluation done? Do you know?


Rachel
Yes, the you can go through your pediatrician or you call the Department of Health for where you live and now, depending on the age of the child, if they’re under three, then it’s early intervention. And if it’s after three, you have to go through your school district because even though they’re not a school-aged child, it’s then part of your district because of who would be providing the services. So like I said, if you have a concern, speak to your doctor of course, and if anybody has any concerns, I would be happy, too. You could write to me any time and have a question if you just have a question, but speak with your pediatrician and let them know your concerns and document it. Document what your concerns are and think about those other things that I mentioned, too, because that’s what they’re gonna ask. Even if there was not verbal communication is their nonverbal communication? Does your little one understand what you’re saying? All of those are part of getting an evaluation, or whether or not they feel that an evaluation is necessary. And that’s why I said that many doctors wait till two unless they…it’s very noticeable because many children develop so many more words between a year and 1/2 and two years old, and that’s why they wait till two. But I always suggest that if you’re really concerned and you are really struggling to think that your child is progressing at all, then you could move forward and call your Department of Health and try to go through the process of getting an evaluation. It’s free, and so if you’re concerned, they will let you know anything.


Nicoll
That’s really great to know. Alright, I want to jump into how can parents be doing things at home to encourage language development?


Rachel
Yes, there are things that…simple activities and proven strategies that everybody can do every day. And some of those things include repetition and pointing, labeling, verbal routines, signs and gestures, all these things that you could do each day. And now what I mean by that is I’m gonna tell you something that you may think it’s silly, but I want parents to narrate their day. So even if you have a baby and there are no words and you don’t expect words yet, I want you to narrate your day. So if you go to the grocery store and they’re in the car seat, just go over your list and say, “We need apples. We need bananas. Do you think we should get milk today? What do you think we should have for dinner?” Talk to them as if you were talking to anybody else. Because parents that narrate their day expose their children to 1,000 to 2,000 extra words every hour. That’s huge, huge, because the only way we can help our children with language is to expose them to as much as possible. So narrating your day is one of the things that’s easy to do and that you could do all the time. Another thing that parents can do, when you read, ever have your little one come up to you when you have to read the same book 20 times a day, over and over again, right? Because that’s what they want. And though it’s tedious for us, the repetition helps them learn, so you might start to see your little one understand what what the caterpillar does next and what happens next because you’ve read the book every day. It’s not that they’re reading it with you, but they’re remembering it. And they’re recalling what happens. That helps them understand that words have meaning and can be put together to make sense, to make more of a story. So you have to read those books over and over again, you know. And as I said, when you’re little one starts to pull you or say one word, if they just say cookie, I want you to try to elaborate on that. Don’t tell them they’re wrong. You know, you don’t want to criticize or anything. You just want to elaborate. So if they say cookie, you say, “Oh, you want the chocolate chip cookie? Okay, here’s the cookie.” Give them more of that word because you could easily say, “Yes. Here’s the cookie.” You want to give them more language so that they can understand that any time they ask for anything, you can build on it. So if they’re pointing outside and see a bird, you say, “Yes. A blue bird. A blue bird is flying.” Whatever it is you can build on it to add two or three more words to show them to make a sentence and not just the individual word.


Nicoll
So it sounds like these are things that parents can be doing from day one. From the day you bring your baby home.


Rachel
Absolutely. Absolutely. I would change my little one’s diaper. He’d be two months old and I would change his diaper and talk about changing his diaper and say, “I have to take off your dirty diaper. I need the A and D. What pajamas should we put on?” I would just talk no matter what we were doing.


Nicoll
I have a question about when kids say words that mean something to them, but it’s not the word that we use. So, like you used “was-wah,” for example. Um, so if I have it… So if my son starts saying “wah-wah” instead of water, is that something that I should correct him on? Because I see a lot of parents that they’ll also start saying that word like, “Oh, do you want ‘wah-wah’?” Is that okay? Or should they still be using the regular word?


Rachel
You should be using both. You don’t eliminate our typical word because if you only use their word for it, they’re not going to have an understanding of the typical word. You want to put them together so you can say “was-wah”, because that’s what they’re understanding. But you say, “You want your cup with wah wah,” and then when you give it to your son, say, “Here’s your water.” So you could say both. You put them together so that eventually the word will turn into water.


Nicoll
Okay, so they understand both. Well, we live in a bilingual household, and I’ve heard that kids who grew up in bilingual households start talking later on than other kids. Is that true?


Rachel
Well, with bilingual kids, they sometimes may talk a little bit later, but it really typically is within the same age range. Because what they’re trying to do, though, is they’re trying to see which word is easier for them to use. So if they know two different words for the same item, they’re trying to see which word is easier for them to use. I’ve even known bilingual children that will use English and Spanish in the same sentence. So half the sentence was in English and half the sentence was in Spanish. But those were the words, and she was four. And those were the words that she liked and that were easier for her to use. And that’s fine. And that’s totally okay.


Nicoll
That makes perfect sense and I’ve never thought of it that way. That that they probably know both words, it’s just a matter of which one they prefer. Which one’s easier to say.


Rachel
Yes, yes.


Nicoll
So what about other unique situations, like twins?


Rachel
Well, I have to remind parents that twins are individuals. They’re not… They have the same birthday, yes, but they are not the same child. I actually worked in early intervention with a few sets of twins where the girl was fine and the boy needed services and was not speaking. Now that is very difficult for parents to cope with and understand, because they do have twins and they don’t understand why one is doing it and the other one isn’t. And the most important thing to remember is that they are individuals. They are different people where they will progress and learn at a different rate.


Nicoll
Do you ever find that they do like, twin talk, so they talk to each other, and because of that, they don’t feel a need to, like, learn the language that the rest of us use.


Rachel
That is the thing that is a real thing, where they can just kind of babble to each other or have fun with each other, and they already have a peer. They have a peer at their same age, at the same level with them where they can play and be. So that’s why you as the parent, want to do all these things to always encourage the language. And another way to encourage it, I tell parents to get on the floor. When I’m working with children, I am sitting on the floor all day. I am not up because you want to be on their eye level. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to see you and connect with you and understand what you’re saying. So when you’re playing and when you’re doing things with them, you should be on their level on the floor.


Nicoll
What about TV? Does having TV as background noise influence, positively or negatively, Language development?


Rachel
It doesn’t, but you don’t want too have too much watching TV time. Now, if it’s just on in the background, maybe you have the news on or you have something where they’re really not paying any attention to it, that’s different than sitting and watching TV each day. And you really want to limit the amount of TV because TV doesn’t allow for any interaction. So when you are sitting and even rolling a ball back and forth, very simple, but it’s a game and they need you to roll the ball back for it to be fun. Otherwise it’s boring. You can talk and play and laugh. When they’re…when children are sitting and watching TV, there is no interaction and there is no requirement for language. That’s the problem is that they could just sit and watch TV and not have to say anything. And that’s why it doesn’t encourage. It doesn’t encourage language. But like music, you could put music on or sing songs. Music is great for language.


Nicoll
That’s awesome. I…my son, definitely enjoys music, so I’m glad to know that it’s great for language too.


Rachel
It is absolutely. It doesn’t have to be kid’s music. A lot of parents are like, “Oh, I’m tired of wheels on the bus and tired of baby shark.” I get it, we play regular music, so as long as it’s not explicit or not kid-friendly. But we play regular music that I like, that my husband likes. And I promise you I have the only three-year-old that walks around asking for AC/DC.


Nicoll
Oh my gosh, that is such a relief because I do get really annoyed with some of those kids songs.


Rachel
Yes, yes, it’s just the kids songs has the repetition built in like I mentioned before, and that’s what helps the children to learn those words. But if you’re in the car, if you’re cooking dinner and you want some music or you can play regular music and that is still great for development.


Nicoll
Well, that’s a relief. If you had one piece of advice for parents to help their kids with language, what would it be?


Rachel
It would really be to narrate your day and to add on one more word to what they say. Narrating your day and just talking throughout what you’re doing is one of the best things that you could do for your children because you’re exposing them to so many words that they wouldn’t know otherwise. Your child could sit in the high chair, and you could be feeding them, and that’s fine. But if you don’t talk about how there is no milk in the fridge and this is the microwave and I want a snack and we have no napkins, they’re not even gonna know those words. You have to introduce them to all the things and all the language as much as you can.


Nicoll
That’s true, right? Like they might see the object or whatever, but they would they would have no way to put a word to it unless you are saying it.


Rachel
Absolutely. Absolutely. And that’s how they understands that the word has meaning. And they understand that the word is important. Before that, you have to think they don’t know what’s the importance of words or why you’re saying all these words. They hear Mommy talking. Now you’re talking, but they have to then make a connection that this word has a meaning. And this word, if I say” more cookie,” I’m going to get a cookie. They’re gonna understands that that word has meaning and they can get something from it.


Nicoll
Now, the most important question of all. How do I get my seven-month-old son to say Mama instead of Dada first?


Rachel
I know. You’re not gonna like this, but Dada is easier.


Nicoll
No!


Rachel
It is the way the tongue moves. And if you try to say it, Dada or Mama, the way that it moves, Dada is just a little bit easier than Mama.


Nicoll
Oh, my gosh. And I guarantee you that’s gonna happen because also, my son looks just like my husband like there is not one drop of me in him. I don’t know how. So his first word probably will be dada, too.


Rachel
Both my kids said that that first and most children do, it’s more common to say Dada first.


Nicoll
Of course, even though I’m like, every single day, I’m like “Mama.” He just laughs at me. Oh well. Rachel, you have a website full of so many helpful resources to explore. Kid talk is the name of your site and you also have a Facebook group. So what can parents expect to find on your website? And then talk a little bit more about your Facebook group, too.


Rachel
Oh, thank you. So on my website are more things about development, like we’ve talked about. Now I have even an article on music and how that helps child development. I also have tons of activities that you can do at home. I know when you’re a mom and you’re home and it’s February and snowing out there like, what can I do with my three-year-old and not go crazy today? I can help you. I have tons of activities that you can do at home, and most of them don’t even require toys most of them are household items, you know, cotton balls and Popsicle sticks and different things that you could do with your children right at home. I have tons of those activities for you and different ideas to keep you busy and to give Mommies just a little bit of peace. A moment of peace to finish that cup of coffee as your kid learns to play a little bit by themselves. You can find tons of that on the website as well as the Facebook group.


Nicoll
I’m a huge fan of the website, so parents, I highly encourage you to go check it out. I’m also going to include all of this information, links to Rachel’s website, Facebook group and everything like that in the show notes as well. But I know we spent a good portion of today talking specifically about language development, as a reminder, Rachel is also a parenting coach that can help you through a variety of other struggles that you might be going through. Rachel, how can parents get in touch with you?


Rachel
Anybody, I would love for anybody to join my Facebook group, and you can always message me anytime, I’m very reachable and I will respond to any message. My Facebook group is Explore Kid Talk Parenting Guidance for Early Childhood and that’s my website. And my Facebook group have the same name. You could also go on the website, and there’s a place while on the home screen to send me a message. And I get back to people as soon as possible. And then, if you would like, we could set up a phone call, a video call where I could just talk to you and get to know you. It’s totally free just to talk and get to know you and give you some pieces of advice to help you. And then if you would like to work together further then we discussed that then.


Nicoll
You are an excellent resource and just a wealth of knowledge. So I highly encourage you to reach out to her. Well, thank you so much for being on this show today. Rachel. It was so great to have you.


Rachel
Oh, it was my pleasure. Thank you for having me. Thank you so much.


Nicoll
Thanks for listening today. For more on pregnancy, postpartum and parenthood, visit MasteringMotherhoodPodcast.com and subscribe to this show wherever you get your podcasts. If you have a topic that you’d like to hear, shoot me an email at MasteringMotherhoodPodcast@gmail.com. Thanks.

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