Getting chatty

There’s a lot you can do as a parent or carer to support the development of your child’s understanding and communication skills, both listening and speaking.

When young children are focused on an activity, it can seem that they can’t hear you. It’s not that they’re deliberately ignoring you, it’s just that they can’t do two things at the same time. You can help them to stop what they’re doing and listen to you by getting down on their level so you’re face to face, gently touching them and saying their name. Once you’ve got their attention, you can tell them what you need them to hear.

Of course if you do have any concerns about their hearing, talk to your public health nurse (health visitor) or GP.

When you talk to your child, you instinctively give them lots of clues that help them to understand you, for example pointing and using simple sentences. By 18 months old, your little one will understand words that you use often, so will be able to respond by pointing when you ask questions like ‘Where’s the…?’

Make sure you give your child a chance to listen to, watch and understand your simple instructions about the things that happen every day such as ‘get your shoes’ or ‘let’s put it in the bin’. Children need to have heard words many times in many situations before they remember them.

For many children, 18 months is the age when talking really takes off, and they may have around 20 words which they say regularly. They’ll also use sounds and gestures to show what they mean, for example saying ‘Miaow!’ when they see a cat, even though they haven’t yet learned the word ‘cat’ itself.

The next stage, around two years old, is starting to put two words together, saying first sentences such as ‘ball gone’, ‘more apple’ or ‘no dinner’. Some of these may be hard for others to understand, as they’ve not yet mastered all the speech sounds, so may say, for example ‘boon’ for ‘spoon’ or ‘bis’ for ‘fish.

You can help by repeating the words back when your child says a short phrase. It not only lets them know you’ve understood, but also gives them the chance to hear the pronunciation of the word again. If you add another word to the phrase, you’ll also be showing them how to join words together. For example, if they child says ‘bis’, the adult might reply ‘Yes, fish! The fish is swimming.’

Talk to your toddler throughout the day as you go about everyday tasks or share books together. This is a really effective way to support their speech development, and helps them more than just asking questions.

Useful links

  • Find more information on how children develop speech sounds and how you can help them in this parent leaflet.
  • The Talk Matters film clip from Leicester City Council also gives an overview of your child’s language development and how you can help them achieve their potential
  • Talking Fun – a leaflet with ideas on engaging your child in a fun way to support speech development

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Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust runs a confidential secure text messaging service for parents of children aged 0-19 years called Chat Health. The service operates Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm, excluding bank holidays. All texts will be responded to by a public health nurse (health visitor/school nurse) within 24 hours. Outside of the service working hours, you’ll receive a message back to inform you that your text will be responded to once the line reopens.

Should you require urgent health advice in the meantime, please contact your GP, visit an NHS walk-in centre or call NHS 111. For emergencies, dial 999 or visit A&E.

Leicester City: text 07520 615381

Leicestershire & Rutland: text 07520 615382

You can also call and speak to a public health nurse on our professional advice line: 0300 3000 007

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