Under six months
By the time babies are four weeks old, they will cry in different ways for different things. There are unique cries for hunger, wetness, pain and missing company or contact. Within a few months, babies also start to coo and gurgle with pleasure.
Within 3-4 months, babies realise that when they make noise, people respond. When a parent or caregiver responds to a baby’s cries, the baby begins to trust this means of communication, because the baby’s needs are being met. In the second six months of life, babies begin to babble in the language of their parents and other caregivers.
Older babies and toddlers
Babies and toddlers do not understand words out of context. Instead, they understand words in combination with your gestures, tone and facial expression.
By 18-24 months, toddlers begin to use action words. These words express what they see or want. At this stage, children leave out adjectives and other grammatical conventions. They might come out with short phrases such as, ‘Mummy go’, or ‘Shoes on’. Babies and toddlers also speak through gestures and tone of voice. What they do physically might be as important as what they actually say.
Toddlers use words and short sentences to assert themselves. ‘No’ and ‘mine’ are used to claim space and take control of their new world. It is developmentally important for a toddler to say these words. When young children say ‘no’ to parents, they are often saying ‘yes’ to themselves. Asserting their independence is an early, important step towards becoming their own person, separate from you.
Toddlers are also beginning to work out the basics of grammar, but will still often get it wrong. Don’t worry too much about correcting your child if your child says, ‘I winned the game, Mummy’. Children will start to understand how the English language works if you just mirror the correct form of the word back to them. For example, ‘Oh, you won it, did you?’
Babies and toddlers might use the same word (often Mama or Dada) to indicate wanting different things such as food, comfort and play! They might also use this word with different intentions to express upset as well as excitement.
– Gillian McNamee, PhD, Director of Teacher Education, Erikson Institute