Early Communication

Ways to promote speech and language skills.

Early Communication

“The staff at the daycare noticed that my two-and-a-half-year-old son doesn’t talk much compared to the other kids. Should I be concerned about this?”  A Worried Mom

The answer is “yes”. Silence can speak volumes when it comes to a child’s speech and language development. It’s a warning sign that there may be a problem. Based on speech and language milestones, this boy should have a vocabulary of more than 350 words, including multiple syllable words, understand the concepts of size and quantity, and be able to use action words and some adult grammar.

Finding out that your child has a language problem can come as a surprise to many parents. You may think that your child is just quieter than other children, or that his frustration over words will work itself out over time. The truth is one in 10 preschool children in Ontario needs help developing normal speech and language skills.

As a parent, you play two important roles in helping your child develop necessary language skills.  The first is to actively communicate with your child from birth; the second is to watch for problems.

Actively communicating

Talking, listening, reading and playing with your child promotes speech and language development. It can be as simple as playing peek-a-boo with an infant, repeating the names of objects with a toddler, or reading a book with your pre-schooler.

Remember the child is learning his speech habits from you, so use these tips to make sure you are coming across loud and clear.

  • Speak slowly and clearly, so your child has a chance to hear the sounds in your words.
  • Practise saying nursery rhymes, poems, or songs with your child, making them slow and rhythmic with emphasis on sounds and words.
  • When your child’s sentences are unclear, repeat what you have understood in a slow, clear manner. This confirms what has been said and provides a good speech model.
  • Exaggerate sounds in your speech that a child doesn’t say correctly. Repeat in different ways (e.g., “You want your juice? OK, here is your juice”).
  • Don’t interrupt your children to correct sounds. Often what they have to say is more important than how they say it.
  • Praise children for their attempts and successes.
  • If you are worried that your child is not making a certain sound, first make sure it is an appropriate sound for his age. Don’t expect too much, too soon! This can be frustrating for you and your child.
  • Share stories with your child. This is a good listening activity. When your child is familiar with a story, have him or her fill in parts of it too.

Watching for problems

The Ontario government’s speech and language milestones for children up to the age of five years – available at www.kidtalk.on.ca – can help you assess your child’s communication ability. Here are some of the milestones.

  • By 12 months, a child should: turn to source of sounds, startle in response to sudden and loud noises, make different cries for different needs, watch your smile as you talk.
  • By 18 months, a child should: understand the concepts of “in/out” and “off/on”, point to several body parts when asked, use at least 20 words regularly, respond with words or gestures to simple questions.
  • By 24 months, a child should: follow two-step directions, use 100-150 words, use pronouns (such as, you, me, and mine), combine two to four words in short phrases.
  • By three years of age a child should: understand “who/what/where/why” questions, create long sentences using five to eight words, talk about past events, tell simple stories.

If you think your child is having trouble communicating or understanding, there are community resources available that can help (see sidebar). Developing good speech and language skills will set your child on the road to success in school and in life.


Help is Here

The District Preschool Speech and Language Program is a not-for-profit partnership between professionals and parents to enhance speech and language services for preschool children in Northumberland County, Peterborough County, Haliburton County and the City of Kawartha Lakes.

You can get help by:

  • Calling in with questions about speech and language development, and having your child’s speech skills screened over the phone. In Northumberland County, call toll-free at 1-866-888-4577.
    Referrals can be made to Five Counties’ Children Centre for speech and language therapy. Resources and practical tips for parents to improve a child’s speech skills are also available.
  • Visiting www.kidtalk.on.ca for additional information and activities to promote speech and language development.

Author: Melanie Bennett and Zinda Harper

Melanie Bennett and Zinda Harper are family health nurses with the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit.

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