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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.

Toddler reading with mother

When young children are focused on an activity, it can seem like 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.

This video was not produced by Health for Under 5’s and may contain adverts.

Of course, if you do have any concerns about their hearing, talk to your health visiting team or GP.

Helping your child’s understanding

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 child 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, 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.

Helping your child’s talking

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, sees them starting to put two words together, saying phrases 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 in the correct way 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.

If you have any concerns about your child’s understanding or talking, speak to your health visiting team or your child’s early years setting.

Bilingual children

If your child is growing up learning more than one language, you might find this website helpful as you support them.

Let’s Get Talking resources

Useful links

Page last reviewed: 16-04-2024

Next review due: 16-04-2027