Try not to worry if your toddler isn't talking much at 18 months. The age at which children learn to talk can vary widely. If it takes your child a little longer than usual, it shouldn't affect how he develops later on.
Ideally, by 18 months, your child should know between six and 20 words, and understand many more. If your little one can say fewer than six words, speak to your health visitor or GP for advice. Its probably the case that he just isn't quite there yet, but if there is a problem, getting help earlier is a good idea.
Aside from speaking words, there are plenty of other signs to look out for, that show your little one is eager to communicate:
- When your toddler wants something, he'll point to it. This is a clear sign that he wants to communicate with you.
- Your toddler should be able to follow simple instructions from you, such as "Pick up your teddy." He will hand you his teddy when you ask for it.
- He will understand lots of single words, and perhaps some two-word phrases, such as "shoe on" or "give me". He may try to copy words that you say and gestures that you make.
- When you're reading a story with him, your toddler may recognise and point to objects and pictures in the book, if you prompt him. Hell also enjoy nursery rhymes and may even try to join in when you sing them.
- While he plays, he'll babble to himself. This will sound like speech, because he'll use rhythm and vary how loudly he talks to convey meaning.
How can I encourage my 18-month-old to talk?
There are lots of things you can do to encourage your toddler's speech. Giving him plenty of opportunities to communicate with you is a great first step.
Talk to him as you do everyday activities such as washing dishes or changing his nappy. Point out things you see when you're out and about. If you ask your toddler a question, leave a good pause to encourage him to respond.
Visual cues will also help your toddler to understand what you are saying to him. For example, if you want him to come to you, holding out your hand to him will help him realise what you mean when you say "come over here, please".
When he uses words, give him plenty of praise and let him know when hes got it right. For example, "Yes, that's right, it is a spoon! Well done!"
Repeat back what you hear your toddler trying to say to you, even if he doesn't say it clearly. Expand on what he says. So if your toddler says "nana" when he wants a banana, you could say "Yes, here's a banana."
Don't worry too much about how your toddler pronounces his words. It's more important that he feels you understand what hes trying to tell you. And whose heart hasnt melted at the sound of their little one saying "pasgetti" instead of "spaghetti"?
If your toddler has been learning more than one language, he may get confused between the two, or tend to use one language more than the other. Rest assured that this wont affect his ability to learn to talk. In fact, there's evidence that learning two languages can improve his memory and language skills later on.
All toddlers stumble over their words from time to time. If, by the time he is two years old, your toddler stutters for more than a few months, or his stutter seems to be getting worse, ask your GP or health visitor for advice. She may be able to refer you to a speech and language therapist.
If your child has difficulty understanding simple instructions or requests, or finds it difficult to pay attention to things that you point to or talk about, have a chat to your health visitor or GP. She may, for example, advise you to get your child's hearing checked. Hearing loss can make it difficult to learn to talk, so it's always worth ruling this out.
Occasionally, a delay in learning to talk, combined with not making eye contact or not responding to those around him, may be a sign of an autism spectrum disorder. Talk to your GP or health visitor if you are worried.
In many cases though, all that's needed is a little extra support and reassurance from your health visitor. All toddlers learn to talk at their own speed, and many who start later than their peers catch up well as they grow.
More on your toddler's speech
- Get tips on ways to encourage your toddler to talk
- See your child's full talking timeline from birth to four years.
- Learn more about how your little one's language skills develop.
- Discover how repetition and reading with your toddler can help his language skills.