Understanding Your Child's Speech Development

Dorothy Dougherty, MA, provides speech therapy for children just learning to speak, and she is the author of How to Talk to Your Baby. In this series, she answers the questions that new parents most frequently ask her.

Question 1: What are the earliest forms of communication and how should I respond?

Your baby has arrived with his own special way of relating and discovering the world. Even in the first months of life, babies show variation in their interests, attention spans, and how they adapt to different situation and surroundings. By tuning into your child’s individuality and earliest forms of communication, you can share in his sense of wonder and discovery and foster his development of positive social growth and self-esteem. As your baby’s memory and alertness develop, he may enjoy quietly observing his environment, or smiling and babbling at everyone that comes in the room.

Watch, listen, and respond to your baby’s cues. You may soon discover the difference between a cry of hunger and a cry of discomfort, a genuine smile or a grimace from an upset stomach. Stop what you are doing and make eye contact. Stand close to your child and bend down to his eye level. Then respond. Use words, gestures and touches that tell him you understand his message. Being a good listener teaches your child a fundamental part of all communication -- taking turns.

It is important not to push your baby, but rather to follow his lead. Keep talking and playing with your baby as long as he listens. He may gaze, smile, or even raise his eyebrow to show you he is enjoying your attention and wants you to continue singing, playing, or talking to him. Beginning around the second month, delightful cooing sounds will accompany his gestures. However, he may frown, cry, turn his head away, kick or straighten his legs, or even arch his back to signal he would rather have some "alone" time. Your keen perception and quick response will encourage him to continue communicating with you. Your child will learn from your caring attention that you are special too.

Question 2 -- Learning the Meaning of Words

Question 3 -- Growing Up Bilingual

Question 4 -- Stuttering

Question 5 -- Sound Deadlines

Question 6 -- When Should I Be Concerned?

Question 7 -- Professional Speech Therapy