How to Encourage a Baby’s First Words

Waiting for the sweet sound of your baby’s first words? What to do when your baby’s speech doesn’t seem to be progressing.

A baby’s first words are a milestone in a child’s life that every parent relishes. Usually they’re simple words like “up”, “no”, “mama” or dada”. Just when a child will utter his or her first word is hard to say. Most experts agree that first words come around one year of age but that each child is as different as the next with speech development varying accordingly. Pediatrician Dr. Jane Hailey says there are certain milestones in speech however, that parents and caregivers should be on the look out for. ” A one year old should recognize his name, follow simple instructions and say “mama”, “dada”, etc. By 18 months children should understand a great deal of what Mom and Dad are saying, imitate housework and start to make some sounds.”

Dr. Hailey adds that if speech development doesn’t seem to be progressing, you should have your baby checked. “If babies are not acting appropriately either visually or in response to sounds, then the child should be assessed. When I assess a child for speech delay I always believe a child’s hearing should be tested.”

Of course, much of what we do as parents can help a child acquire language. After decades of studying how children learn to talk, researchers have come to realize that parents instinctively do many of the things needed to encourage speech. Dr. Heather Elbard, a speech and language pathologist says that “parents naturally slow down their phrasing and repeat two or three key words of each sentence which the child will start to understand. This system of teaching language has been used by parents and grandparents for centuries.”

In time children will be ready to actually put a few words together in simple sentences. Parents can help prepare their children for this next step in speech development now by repeating what a child says in a slightly expanded form. Dr. Elbard explains that by repeating their words in short, simple sentences “you not only reinforce the importance of language to the child, but you help build their vocabulary and semantic skills into a more complex grammatical structure.”


Adapted from The Parent Report Radio Show. Any advice or information contained herein should never be a substitute for professional and/or medical advice, diagnosis and treatment. For more information please review Terms of Service.

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