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15:36 PM

Baby talk: speech guidelines for 12, 24 and 36 months

How to tell if your child's speech is developing at the right pace

You’re at the park, pre-school, church or play date and you can’t help but compare your child’s skills to the other kiddos playing. I’ve done it, you’ve done it, we all do it. Can they climb as high? Can they run as fast? Most importantly, though, can they tell the other children they want to play, too?

Communication is the foundation for building relationships and the process of going back and forth between people. If you can’t play with others nicely, make and keep a friend, or understand directions from adults, it will be difficult to interact with others. Those skills begin forming very early with that beautiful smile, adorable laugh and silly babble as infants.

Every child develops communication skills at their own pace. How do you know if they are on target or if they need to see a specialist? We want to make sure your child has developed some of these skills by certain ages. Here are some guidelines on what your child should be doing by 12, 24 and 36 months of age…

Age  What You Should See and Hear ...
12 Months
  • Lots of babbling like “gaga,” “baba,” “bebe” and one or two words will be used purposefully such as “mama” or “dada.”
  • Turns to their name when called and follows simple directions such as “come here.”
  • Begins using gestures to communicate such as pointing.
  • Will imitate speech sounds, or mouth movements.
24 Months
  • Points to a few body parts such as “eyes and nose.”
  • Points to pictures in a book.
  • Says two words together that are unrelated such as “go car!”
  • Uses lots of different consonant sounds at the beginning of words.
36 Months
  • Follows two-step requests such as “go to your room and get your shoes.”
  • Uses two to three words together to comment or ask questions
  • Asks “why?”
  • Listens to and enjoys hearing stories for longer periods of time.

If your child isn’t doing some of these things by these ages, don’t despair! Here are a few things you can be sure to try with your growing toddler…

  • Imitate your baby’s communication, even if it is just a smile or coo. Adult conversation is all about turn-taking so teach this skill as early as possible!
  • Play with sounds. Blow raspberries, cluck like a chicken, make fishy faces, and have fun doing it! This will help increase their awareness and their ability to make sounds.
  • Talk about everything and give things a name! When bathing, feeding, and changing their diapers, talk about what you are doing. You might feel silly, but they are definitely listening!
  • When your child makes an attempt at communicating, give them big praise, repeat what they said, and then expand it to a bigger phrase. (Example: “A car? Yes! That IS a car! Good job! Hi, car! Go, car, go!”)

You may feel as though your child just isn’t getting it. You may be right. It may take a higher level of intervention to get your child’s communication skills rolling. Speak with your pediatrician about a speech and language evaluation with your friendly speech-language pathologist. We’re happy to help!

About the author

Melanie Van Noy is a speech pathologist at Cook Children's.Speech/language pathologists focus on oral motor, speech, language and communication skills to enhance development, restore function and to prevent disability from pediatric conditions, illness or injury.

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Sharon Geisler
Great article, Melanie! I read the article as a "refresher" for me. I was so excited to see that you are the author of it!!