Communication in Early Childhood – What to Watch For


Among the many milestones in a parent’s life, hearing a child’s first spoken word is one of the most exciting. It can also be a cause of anxiety for parents who wonder if their child is developing normally. Is their child waiting too long to speak? How many words should they know? When will they begin speaking in full sentences?

The truth is that there is no perfect mathematical answer for when a child should begin speaking. Each child is unique and will develop according to his or her own individual schedule, but there are some ‘pre-linguistic’ behaviors that nearly all children share that can indicate that the time for speech is drawing close.

Eye Contact Is the First Sign of Speech Development

Very quickly after birth, children are able to focus their eyes at a short distance, usually eight to ten inches. This ability to focus develops rapidly, and as it does, you will notice your child focusing more and more on human faces. This intense focus and the eye contact that comes with it indicate that the child recognizes other people and is open to engaging with them.

Joint Attention Is the Next Sign of Impending Speech

“Look at the doggie! Look at the duckie!” These are things you hear parents saying often to their small children. And whether they realize it or not, they are encouraging their child to participate in what’s called joint attention – a shared focus on a third person or object. An important developmental step occurs when a child is able to initiate this joint attention on his or her own with an intense stare or by pointing.

Gestures Are The First Instances of “Speech” In Children

It’s said the body language makes up over 90% of human communication. And body language also is one form of communication that can be understood across cultures and languages. So it makes sense that non-verbal communication, in other words “gestures,” would occur before the first word is ever spoken. When a child signals “all gone” with an empty hand or points to his favorite toy to indicate something he wants, he’s demonstrating that he understands that his inner thoughts can be communicated to other people. This basic recognition is a cornerstone for language.

If you are seeing these developmental milestones in your child, then you know that spoken words are on the way. Just exactly when your child starts speaking them – whether at nine months or sixteen months – is not so important.

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