Let’s face it, as SmartMoms, this is a developmental milestone we celebrate. Admittedly, it’s also one we can fret about. Many moms ask, when should babies start talking? Most would say it’s typical to expect your baby to say their first word right around their first birthday. However, like many developmental milestones, it’s a norm based on babies who have said their first word before their first birthday and on babies who have uttered their first word a bit later. So, no need to mark your calendars or call the doctor on your wordless baby’s first birthday. In fact, let me suggest that it’s not about talking at all. It’s all about communication. Let me explain:
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) suggests that your child likely has one or two words between 7-12 months, however, sometimes these words may not sound like a word. Often, during these months, your little explorer is experimenting with sounds. Even a cry or laugh is a form of communication. Your child is learning how to get his/her needs met through sound. However, you child also is learning to communicate through movement and facial expressions. It can be a great joy for parents to play peek-a-boo and wave goodbye with their baby. These are also ways your child learns to communicate. In the realm language we divide communication in half- receptive and expressive. Your child develops receptive language as they watch and hear you speak. Receptive language is used when your child hears and understands what you say and do. In fact, before 12 months your child is beginning to understand and respond to your verbal requests. For example, when you say, “can you find your shoe?” your child will likely look around and be delighted to find it! Expressive language is your child’s response. As your child develops, their expressive language will form into formal, structured, speech. Obviously, it doesn’t start out that way. Even a cry can be a form of expressive language for a baby. ASHA does a great job providing communication activities to try at home and breaking down these milestones for expressive and receptive language here, so check it out. If your child doesn’t engage in these forms of play, facial expressions, or experimenting with sound, it is definitely something to bring up to your pediatrician. Here, I have suggested three ways to ensure that your little one has the best running start at expressive language.
Eliminate ear infections and hearing problems. If your child isn’t hearing sounds with clarity, it will definitely be more challenging for him to develop these sounds in their own repertoire. Nearly all hospitals check for hearing loss before discharging infants and parents from the hospital. However, often ear infections are more challenging to identify in babies. The symptoms can overlap with teething, colds, and sinus infections. If you notice a sudden change in your baby’s mood, consider that an ear infection could be the culprit! By keeping your baby’s ears healthy and clear of fluids, you are helping to ensure your baby is hearing all the sounds around her. This is critical to your baby’s development of both receptive and expressive language skills.
Share experiences together. Babies and often adults as well, learn best through experience. When a baby is surrounded stimuli in an environment, they are prepared to learn and hear what’s around him. Based on how babies learn, enjoy these experiences with your little one. Sing, talk, and play together. Even if your baby isn’t “talking” learn to enjoy the way in which they communicate. And don’t forget, talking is just as much about listening. Try reading to your baby and asking her to point to pictures. Or, as she flips through the pages, direct her finger to an object and tell her about it. Fostering these experiences doesn’t need to involve great preparation or expense. The best part? It’s perhaps the best thing you can do for your baby’s language development, not to mention psychosocial development too.
Expand what your baby says. Sure, your baby may not have their first word yet. Or perhaps they do. Either way, try engaging your child by expanding upon what they do say. Where do you think Baa, Baa, Black Sheep came from? I guarantee it was a parent expanding on their child’s limited vocabulary. If your child can utter “mama”, you can expand this by turning your child’s way and responding, “Yes! I’m Mama. Mama loves you.” You get the idea. Many parents think that because their child can’t talk yet that there is less necessity on talking with their child. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Expand the sounds your child is expressing, and have fun with it! You may end up with a nursery rhyme that lasts for nearly 300 years and becomes debated for it’s political correctness (see accurate origination of Baa, Baa, Black Sheep here).
If you suspect there is a problem with your child’s hearing, speech, or language, contact your child’s pediatrician and request to see an audiologist or speech language pathologist. You can find more information about these professionals here.