There seems to be quite a storm that occurs inside the heads of our young ones when it comes to the early stages of communicating.  There is a disconnect between knowing what they mean to say and their ability to not only express it, but to do so in a way that others would understand. I am talking about those moments when you find yourself face-to-face with a child who, after repeating himself several times, is now borderline screaming incoherently in a tearful effort to be understood. He has never spoken so much in his life so far, and while he is coming leaps and bounds towards intelligible speech, his execution doesn’t always match his intention.  This misunderstanding in our fast-paced world is stressful at any age, let alone for those of us who are still learning to string sounds together to make sensible words. Throw in the fact that your 2-year-old is also beginning to figure out his expanding scope of emotions, and all of a sudden some of those ‘terrible-two tantrums seem a little less terrible.

At the age of 2, you usually find that communication between your child and the world around him is substantially different to the way things might have been a year ago.  He might now understand around 300 words and be adding new ones daily to his growing vocabulary.  Receptive language is growing – notice in the way he understands simple questions and follows basic instructions like, “Pick up your book,” or “Put your plate in the sink.”  These days, reading a story is more interactive as he points to pictures and occasionally attempts to name things as you read along.  He shows you his growing memory as he names some parts of his body and face.

His Expressive language is booming! Many children experience a burst of language at this age.  He spontaneously speaks more than 50 words with confidence and a basic understanding of their meanings, and will usually use the name of most common and everyday objects to draw your attention to them rather than simply pointing. He might say sounds like p, h, n, b and k at the beginning, middle and end of words but he may drop other sounds to shorten words. Speaking in very short phrases of about 2 words, he is a step closer to conveying what he means when he comments on things or asks questions, i.e. “Doggie go!” or “More bikkie?” He plays with prepositions (in, on) and pronouns (I, me, you) when he speaks and sometimes uses them correctly, while some regular verb endings (-s, -ed, -ing) find themselves tagged onto appropriate words.  He impresses with the ability to completely ruin you when he sings along to simple songs, and although he still babbles sometimes, you find that his speech is 50-75% intelligible.

His realisation that adults pay attention to words shows a growing social understanding.  He is very interested in communicating and does well to take conversational turns.  Play is taken to new levels as he attempts different voices for different effects in games and role play, and you hear some real words as he chatters while playing with others or enjoying a moment of solitude.  Sometimes, his desire to be understood is highlighted when he becomes frustrated and throws a tantrum; he is showing a wider range of emotions the older he gets.

They say that a moving ship is easiest to steer, and you find your little one’s communication is undeniably on the move these days.  Here are some super simple tips to help steer your child’s communication journey toward able, and even skilful, conveyance of what he means.

  1. Add language to your child’s experiences. Giving plenty of opportunities for repetition is key with this one!  If your child spills juice all over the floor, you might add language to the experience by saying something like, “Uh oh …. Juice on the floor …. fell on the floor …. what a mess …. Oh well …. Let’s clean it up!”  Adding language to an experience is a wonderful way of starting conversation and reinforcing routines, whether they are daily, like getting dressed, or situational, like cleaning a mess off the floor.  Remember to use simple words that your child will understand.
  2. Make up songs about what just happened.  Reinforce language around the experience with songs, i.e. “This is the way we mop the floor ….”
  3. Sing nursery rhymes.  Music is a great way for your child to engage with language.  Slow the song down as you sing to give him a better chance to join in and keep up!
  4. Read to your child and help him to join in.  Again, repetition is key – be open to reading the same book over and over and over again if he wishes.
  5. Talk to him on his level.  There is nothing about learning to talk and make conversation with kneecaps that sounds appealing or helpful! Physically reposition yourself to speak face-to-face with your child.  It is not only an opportunity to give a good, clear model in forming words but also demonstrates respect for him and what he has to say – social skills, people!
  6. Make mealtimes ‘happy places’.  De-stress the experience.  The movements involved in eating solids trains the mouth and strengthens muscles to support speech and articulation so keep this time as calm as possible without rushing your child in any way.
  7. Play with articulators. Encourage your child to engage in mouth play; by exercising his tongue, lips, cheeks and jaw in play, you will be building the muscles used for speech.
  8. Expand on what your child is saying. If your child says, “Bus go,” you could expand by saying “Bus go fast.”  Be sure to follow his lead – this way, you are engaging and teaching conversation at the same time.
  9. Beware the ‘funny voice’. Although it is fun when your little one is exploring the funny voices he can make, it is important to remember that certain voices and sounds (growling, etc.) can be quite damaging to the vocal chords.  If you find that he starts to make the voice/sound more frequently, perhaps you could consider redirecting him to use a less stressing voice.
  10. Make language a requirement.  Eventually the cuteness of pointing rather than talking is going to wear off – making language a requirement when appropriate is the perfect way to bring speech into action. Don’t forget to give your child plenty of time to get his words out.  Patience is essential here! The more he is rushed to speak, the less he will say.

If you have any questions regarding your 2-year-old’s communication development, consider connecting with your local Speech Pathologist or talking to your trusted Paediatrician.