When learning to talk is a struggle

8 Mar 2020

It’s normal for very young children to not always express themselves clearly. From around 18 months to when they are about three, your child is still learning to build their vocabulary, make sentences, and pronounce sounds correctly.


Each child develops at their own pace – this includes learning to use language properly.


Language ability is a critical skill to have, so if you think your little one is struggling, here are some things to look out for, and some tips to help them along:


Signs your little one may have language difficulties:


  • From 12 to 18 months – they show little interest in communicating and interacting.
  • From 18 months to two years – they have difficulty understanding instructions or questions, and/or they don’t speak much.
  • Three years – they don’t use full sentences, it’s difficult to understand them, and they struggle to say simple words.


What causes language difficulties?


No one knows exactly what causes minor language difficulties in children. It may be hereditary or simply because a child doesn’t get the chance to interact with others as often as other children do.


Language difficulties are very common in toddlers, but it’s usually nothing to worry about. Most children who struggle with talking will still understand instructions and questions – and they’ll usually have the same language skills as other children when they start school.


How to help your child


  • When you speak to them, get down to their level. This helps them see how your mouth moves when pronouncing the words.
  • Speak slowly so that they can understand all of the words in your sentences.
  • When correcting your child, rephrase the word(s) slowly, emphasising the parts that they find more difficult.
  • Have regular play dates with children the same age.
  • Name the objects that your child points to, and encourage them to repeat after you.


When to seek further help


If your child is starting school and they still have significant language difficulty, they may have a developmental language disorder. A developmental language disorder can continue into adulthood if it is not addressed properly in childhood. If your child shows signs of speech difficulties that are cause for concern, speak to your doctor. They will direct you to a speech therapist if necessary.


Remember, this is a skill that takes a lot of time and practise to get right for your little one. Some tots may begin speaking earlier or later than others – be patient, keep trying, but, as always, trust your instincts.