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Communication and Your 1- to 2-Year-Old

Language development starts to take off during this time, especially as children near their second birthday.

Kids this age are better able to understand what is said to them and express what they want through words and gestures. They take joy in their ability to understand directions — and also like to give directions of their own.

How Do Toddlers Communicate?

Most kids say 1–2 words by 15 months and 3 or more words by 18 months. By 2 years old, most toddlers are saying even more words and can put together 2-word sentences.

No matter when they say their first words, it's a sure bet they already understand much of what you say. Your child should be able to respond to simple commands ("Roll the ball to Mommy") and look at or point to familiar objects when you name them.

Toddles use more gestures, like blowing a kiss, pointing to something they want, or nodding yes. Gestures will get more complex over this year as toddlers use them to imitate actions, express themselves, and play.

Your child's vocabulary will grow quickly, but pronunciation isn't likely to keep pace. By 2 years of age, most kids are understandable only about half the time. But emphasize the correct pronunciations in your responses.

What Can I Do?

  • Use correct names. Your little one is listening to everything you say and storing it away at an incredible rate. Instead of using "baby" words, use the correct names for people, places, and things. Speak slowly and clearly and keep it simple.
  • Respond to your child’s gestures. Gestures are an important part of language development. Encourage kids to respond and participate in conversations by making the connection between their gestures and language. For example, ask, "Do you want a drink?" (when your child points to the refrigerator), then wait for a response. Then say, "What do you want? Milk? OK, let's get some milk."
  • Continue singing and playing rhyming games. Your child will probably enjoy gesture games (like “Itsy Bitsy Spider”) and identifying things (such as body parts, pictures, or objects) and familiar people: "Where's your ear?", "Show me the ball," and "Where is Mommy?"
  • Read colorful picture books and encourage your child to turn the pages and find things on the page.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Most children meet these language milestones during this period:

  • try to say 1–2 words other than “mama” or “dada” by 15 months
  • look at a familiar object when you name it by 15 months
  • say 3 or more words by 18 months
  • follow 1-step directions without gestures by 18 months
  • when you ask, point to things in a book and at least 2 body parts by age 2
  • put at least 2 words together, like “more milk,” by age 2

Some parents worry that a toddler who is not speaking may have autism. Doctors look for signs of autism at every checkup and do screening tests for autism at 18 months and 2 years.

If you have any questions or concerns about your child's development, talk with your doctor.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date Reviewed: May 17, 2022

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