What if My Baby Isn't Talking?

As a mother whose youngest child refused to say a single word until he turned two, I am well-acquainted with the anxiety parents feel when their child is not talking when he "should" be. All parents know how exciting it is when your baby utters his or her first words. While most babies will be saying at least three to five words by the time they are a year old, "normal" can encompass considerable time on either side of this number. Many babies start babbling "mama" and "dada" as early as six months, although they may have no real understanding of what they are saying just yet.

What Comes First

Even though your baby cannot talk back, it's important to talk to them right from the moment they come into this world. And remember-while your baby may not be talking yet, he is already communicating to you through different cries which let you know what he wants or needs. Every word you say to your baby helps him develop his receptive language, and stimulates his language development. Your baby is like a little sponge, and he literally soaks up information and expands his future vocabulary simply by listening to you. Long before your baby can actually talk, you can talk to him, and you can help develop his receptive language skills by exaggerating words and actions while you are teaching their meaning, as well as by exaggerating the vowel sounds in a word rather than the consonants. No matter what activity you are engaged in, talk about it. If you are putting your baby's shoes on, then you can tell him that you are putting on his shoes, that his shoes are blue, that you have to have shoes to go outside and play....well, you get the idea!

The "Typical" Talking Timetable

Most babies begin babbling somewhere around 4-6 months, and will respond to your speech with smiles and noises. While these aren't actual words, he is probably making vowel sounds such as "ooh" and "aah." Between the ages of seven and 12 months, your baby will understand more and more, and will know what "no" means. You may see him attempting to imitate sounds you make, and he could be waving bye-bye or even blowing kisses. Much of his "talking" during this period may be unintelligible babbling, or he may begin speaking clear words.

The "average" time most children will begin saying their first word is somewhere between 11 and 14 months. Take that with a huge grain of salt, however. My first son was talking clearly at 8 and a half months, while, as noted, my younger son refused to say a single word (although he made all sorts of really great animal sounds) until he was over two. Baby games such as "peek-a-boo" can help your baby learn to talk as can pointing at something like the cat and saying "kitty" over and over. Reading to your baby is also a great way to develop his language skills, and most babies love to be read to.

When to Seek Professional Help

If your baby is not babbling-or making animal sounds-by the time he has reached his first birthday, discuss this with your pediatrician. Note whether your baby responds to sounds, or you calling his name, as this could be an indicator of a hearing problem. Does your baby understand when you say "no" or "give me the...."? Is he developing normally in all other areas, and is there a family history of slow language development? In almost all cases, there is not a problem, and your child is simply operating on his own timetable, however it can give you peace of mind to consult a professional. Once our two year old began talking, he did so in complete and clear sentences, and he has not stopped talking since. We sometimes shake our heads at our chatty eleven year old and wonder why we were so anxious for him to talk!

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