Speech & Language Therapy

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Communication and Your 2- to 3-Year-Old

Communicating with a child, from infancy onward, is one of the most pleasurable and rewarding experiences for both parent and child. Children learn by absorbing information through daily interactions and experiences with other kids, adults, and the world.

Communicating With Your Child

The more interactive conversation and play kids are involved in, the more they learn. Reading books, singing, playing word games, and simply talking to kids will increase their vocabulary while providing increased listening opportunities.

Here are a few suggestions to help improve your child's communication skills:

  • Talk to your toddler about what he or she did during the day or plans to do tomorrow. "I think it's going to rain this afternoon. What shall we do?" Or discuss the day's events at bedtime.
  • Play make-believe games.
  • Read favorite books over and over and encourage your child to join in with words he or she knows. Encourage "pretend" reading (letting your child "read" a book to you).

Vocabulary and Communication Patterns

Between the ages of 2 and 3, kids experience a tremendous growth spurt in language skills. During this period, most kids can follow simple directions and speak 50 or more words. Many kids are combining words in short phrases and sentences.

Kids this age usually can follow 2-step instructions, such as "pick up the ball and bring it to Daddy." A 3-year-old's vocabulary typically is 200 or more words, and many kids can string together 3 or 4 word sentences.

Kids at this stage of language development can understand more and speak more clearly. By age 3, you should be able to understand about 75% of what they say.

Kids should be using language freely and beginning to use language to solve problems and learn concepts. They're usually able to engage in a simple question-and-answer format. They can also count three objects correctly, begin to tell stories, and know their own first and last name.

If You Suspect a Problem

If you suspect your child is having trouble with hearing, language acquisition, or speech clarity, talk to your doctor. A hearing test may be one of the first steps in determining if your child has a hearing problem. Age 2 is not too young for a referral for a speech/language evaluation, particularly if a child is not following directions, answering simple questions, or saying enough words.

Typical Communication Problems

Communication problems for 2- to 3-year-olds include:

  • hearing difficulties
  • problems following directions
  • poor vocabulary acquisition
  • unclear speech
  • stuttering

Stuttering and articulation problems are common at certain ages and most kids will outgrow them. Other problems may require further evaluation. Your doctor will help determine whether your child would benefit from speech and language evaluation and treatment. A child who also appears to be delayed in other areas of development may be referred to a developmental pediatrician or psychologist.

Some parents worry that a toddler who is not speaking may have autism. Children with autism and related conditions may have delayed speech or other problems with communication, but poor social interactions, and limited or restricted interests or patterns of behavior are also hallmarks of this disorder.

If you have any questions or concerns about your child's development, talk with your doctor.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: October 2011