Queensland Speech Pathology
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Tips to get your Tot Talking

12th April 2016 12:40

“Mama, Dada.”

These are often the first, and most memorable, words we often hear from our children. By 12 months, most children have said their first word. Though it is not unusual for a child to not be talking by 18 months, either.

As new parents, we are often bombarded with all different opinions regarding the developmental milestones of our children, such as height, weight, language and their movement. So it doesn’t surprise me that many parents come to me with concerns that their eldest child seemed further along with their language compared to their younger child at the same age. So when exactly should you start to be concerned with your child’s language?

Unfortunately, there is no ‘magic age’ when a child should start talking. Many parents worry that if their child has not started talking by 18 months, they have a communication disorder and need therapy, though it is important to know that there is a vast difference between a child being a ‘late talker’ and one with a ‘communication disorder’. A late talker is a child who is late to talk, but once started, quickly catches up to their peers. A child with a communication disorder is one who is late to talk, but unfortunately does not catch up to their peers.

Whilst there is a huge variance in the ages children begin talking at, all children should be talking by their third birthday. Some children begin talking at 12 months, the majority between 18 – 24 months, and some begin talking between 30 – 36 months. So, when should you be concerned that your child is not talking? Early intervention is crucial, and can begin well before a child is 36 months. Does my child need speech therapy? What if he is just a late talker? Below is a list of green and red flags which can help you and a speech pathologist predict if your child is a late talker or at risk of a communication disorder:


Green Flags

-        Normal pregnancy and birth

-        No issues with feeding

-        All other developmental milestones within normal limits (height, weight, movement)

-        Different cries as a baby (hungry, tired, scared etc.)

-        Babbling and cooing by 9 months

-        Plays appropriately

-        No ear infections

-        Understanding is good (understands hi, their name etc.)

-        Non-verbal communication (points, vocalises, takes your hand to something of interest, etc.)


Red Flags

-        Pregnancy difficulties and/or low birth weight

-        Feeding difficulties

-        Late babbling/cooing (baby didn’t babble until 12 months = big red flag)

-        Play is immature/different

-        No non-verbal communication (eye gaze, looks at person when speaking, not pointing, not vocalising)

-        Failing to thrive with language (e.g. said first words at 14 months, but only has 5 words at 24 months)

-        Recurring ear infections

-        Sudden loss of language


When we see a child in the 12 – 36 month age range, we compare the number of green flags to the number of red flags. The more green flags, the more likely it is your child is a late talker. If there are lots of red flags, we will discuss these in detail with you and collaboratively create a plan to get your child talking.  

So what can I do to encourage my child’s talking?

1. Talk, talk, talk and talk some more to your child!

  • In order for a child to learn to talk, a child must first hear it. Some children take longer than others, however, keep talking to them to encourage their language.

2. Provide your child with choices

  • Giving your child choices is a great way to encourage them to talk. Giving your child a choice can be with food, drink, toys, movies etc. Show your child the items when providing the choice. If they point, say the word for them and encourage them to say it, too.

3. Verbs (action or doing words)

  • Children’s first words are usually nouns, such as a person’s name. Very soon after, verbs appear. Verbs are key to further language development, or talking. You cannot make a sentence without a verb! To encourage your child to use verbs, describe everything you are doing, such as driving, sweeping, running, walking etc. Playing repetitive games is also useful so your child can hear the same words over and over again. For example, when playing with Play Doh, describe what you are doing, “cutting, cutting” “rolling, rolling, rolling”. Another activity, bubbles, count “1, 2, 3, blow”, and encourage your child to do the same.  

4. Ask lots of questions

  • Ask your child questions, but answer them for them. Point and ask “What’s that?”, “Who’s that?”, “Where are we going?” etc. Asking your child questions will encourage them to ask questions back to you and engage in conversation. Asking questions is how your child learns about their world.

5. Nursery Rhymes

  • Sing nursery rhymes with your child and encourage them to do the actions with you. Having your child participate in nursery rhymes will lead to the anticipation of words, such as “Baa baa black ____”, creating the encouragement to say the expected word.


Age appropriate talking and communication is important to every child’s wellbeing and success for their future learning. If your child is showing more of the ‘red flags’ compared to green, please contact Queensland Speech Pathology Services. In general, the earlier a language or communication disorder is detected, the easier it is to treat.

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