Communication and Your 2- to 3-Year-Old

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Parents

Communicating with our kids is one of the most pleasurable and rewarding parts of parenting. Children learn by absorbing information through daily interactions and experiences not only with us, but with other adults, family members, other kids, and the world.

Communicating With Your Child

The more interactive conversation and play kids are involved in, the more they learn. Reading books, singing, playing word games, and simply talking to toddlers will build their vocabulary and teach listening skills.

Here are a few suggestions to help improve your child's communication skills:

  • Talk to your toddler about what he or she did during the day or plans to do tomorrow. "I think it's going to rain this afternoon. What shall we do?" Or discuss the day's events at bedtime.
  • Play make-believe games.
  • Read favorite books over and over and encourage your child to join in with words he or she knows. Encourage "pretend" reading (letting your child "read" a book to you).

Vocabulary and Communication Patterns

Between the ages of 2 and 3, kids experience a tremendous growth spurt in language skills. At the start of this period, most kids can follow directions and say 50 or more words. Many combine words in short phrases and sentences. Kids this age usually can follow two-step instructions, such as "pick up the ball and bring it to Daddy."

By age 3, a toddler's vocabulary usually is 200 or more words, and many kids can string together three- or four-word sentences. Kids at this stage of language development can understand more and speak more clearly. By now, you should be able to understand about 75% of what your toddler says.

Kids should be using language freely and starting to solve problems and learn concepts. They usually can engage in a simple question-and-answer session. They also can count three objects correctly, begin to tell stories, and know their first and last name.

If You Suspect a Problem

If you think your child is having trouble with hearing, language development, or speech clarity, talk to your doctor. A hearing test may be one of the first steps in determining if your child has a hearing problem. Age 2 is not too young for a referral for a speech/language evaluation, particularly if a child is not following directions, answering simple questions, or saying enough words.

Typical Communication Problems

Communication problems for 2- to 3-year-olds include:

  • hearing difficulties
  • problems following directions
  • poor vocabulary acquisition
  • unclear speech
  • stuttering

Stuttering and articulation problems are common at certain ages and most kids will outgrow them. Other problems may need further evaluation. Your doctor will discuss whether your child would benefit from speech and language evaluation and treatment. A child who also appears to be delayed in other areas of development may be referred to a developmental pediatrician or psychologist.

Some parents worry that a toddler who is not speaking may have autism. Children with autism and related conditions may have delayed speech or other problems with communication, but poor social interactions and limited or restricted interests or patterns of behavior are also hallmarks of this disorder.

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

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: August 2014



Related Resources

OrganizationAmerican Speech-Language-Hearing Association This group provides services for professionals in audiology, speech-language pathology, and speech and hearing science, and advocates for people with communication disabilities.
OrganizationAssociation for Research Into Stammering in Childhood (ARSC) The ARSC is a British organization that funds scientific research into the causes of and treatments for stuttering in children and young adults.
OrganizationAmerican Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.
Web SiteZero to Three Zero to Three is a national nonprofit organization that promotes the health and development of infants and toddlers.


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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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