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On No! My Child Is Not Talking Yet!

What should your child be learning at home?
Are you concerned about the language skills your child should be gaining from you at home?  Children learn a great deal of language skills during their first years at home, however, the rate at which children develop speech and language skills before the age of three varies from one child to the next.

Parent-infant interaction is crucial in developing communication skills, setting a child up for later learning and development.  In several studies a strong relationship has been drawn between development of language skills and many social and economic factors experienced by the family and parents.

So, what are some reasons language development may differ from one child to the next?

What habits or behaviours can parents rely on to ensure their child is learning effective communication skills in those crucial years at home?

Studies have explored four factors that may be at the root of differences in rate of early language development:

1.  Income
2.  Job (hours spent at work vs. at home)
3.  Educational background
4.  Parent input (amount of time spent communicating with child)

How do these factors translate to language development?  And which one has the biggest impact on a child?

According to Topping et al. (2013), socio-economic status accounts for large variances in vocabulary.  Commonly children of parents with higher educational background as well as higher income command a significantly larger vocabulary by the age of three than children whose parents have completed less education or work in lower paying jobs (Topping et al., 412). Some reasons for this difference are found in the types of language used by parents and families in each category. While vocabulary is important, it is the way parents communicate with their child that seems to make a greater impact.  The use of language to inspire conversation and encourage questions significantly broadens a child’s vocabulary and use of expressive language as opposed to language that is used more often to direct a child’s behaviour (412).

Additionally, parents in all demographics are found to consistently overestimate the amount they speak directly to their children in a day (412).

So, what does this mean?

There are some things parents can try in order to engage their children and encourage language and communication development.

One is telling or discussing stories– encouraging open-ended questions and response.  Ensuring conversations are two-way rather than issuing directives allows children to become more expressive.

Another thing parents can do is encourage symbolic play– for example playing kitchen.  Activities that encourage creativity, discussion, and symbolic associations are valuable steps to developing effective communication skills (Topping et al., 416).


Written by: Kimberly Thomson, Head of Research at Simone Friedman Speech-Language Services

Sources: Rowe, Meredith L., Stephen Raudenbush, Susan Goldin-Meadow (2012).  The Pace of Vocabulary Growth Helps Predict Later Vocabulary Skill.  Child Development 83(2), 508-522.

Topping, Keith, RayenneDekhinet, and Suzanne Zeedyk (2013).  Parent-infant Interaction and Children’s Language Development.  Educational Psychology 33(4), 391-426.


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