“When do babies start talking?”
As a new parent, this question will cross your mind at some point in the first six months after your baby is born.
So here’s an insight from our experience:
While you can’t exactly predict when your child will say her first words, you can help her get there.
After that? If you’re still worried about it…
There’s a chance you’re stressing out too much.
Yet despite that, language development keeps a lot of parents up at night.
And that’s understandable.
After all, learning to talk is an important part of child development!
So we understand the concern. But we do want other parents to have a better understanding of the process of language development (and how they can be a positive force for their kiddos).
That way, you can mitigate your worries along the way.
In this post, you’ll find info on milestones to know about, lessons we’ve learned with our kids, and warning signs to watch out for.
Let’s dive in.
When Do Babies Start Talking?
Now, we’ll dive into the warning signs to look for later.
But to begin, let’s look at some research on language development and consider why it matters.
Discover the Art of a Special Parenting Language To Help Them Learn
There’s one trend we’ve noticed in the research about when babies start talking, and it pertains to how parents approach language learning.
You see, language development flourishes when parents take a specific approach.
And it nudges babies toward developing their speaking skills.
Babies don’t magically start talking on their own, it’s a set of skills that develop over time.
So one way parents can help is by speaking a special language to their babies.
It’s called “parentese.”
Once you’re aware of this special parenting language, you can take active steps to use it.
But here’s the thing…
Parentese is not the typical “baby talk” you hear.
We aren’t talking about the incoherent babbling that many parents engage in with their babies.
“Parentese” is more involved. In short, it’s active back-and-forth communication between a parent and her baby.
Consider this quote from the researcher who discovered it:
“We’ve known for some time that the use of parentese is associated with improved language outcomes,” said Patricia Kuhl, I-LABS co-director and professor of speech and hearing sciences at the UW.”
In other words?
Using this “parentese” with your child will help them learn their native language!
“We believe parentese makes language learning easier because of its simpler linguistic structure and exaggerated sounds” [Ekhart, Kim, “Parents learn, babies talk: How coaching moms and dads leads to better language skills among infants.”]
Simple, short, dialogue like a conversation between you and your baby will help them pick up the language.
The way you communicate with your baby, even from an early age, can help him develop language skills.
This approach is driven by the following idea:
Kids don’t pick up language on their own.
The process of language acquisition grows out of the interaction between kids and their parents.
You might be surprised to learn this. At first glance, this isn’t conventional wisdom.
And it sounds counterintuitive.
If you’re wondering when your baby will start talking, you might think that babies pick up a language simply from immersion.
But the process of language acquisition is more involved than this:
Its immersion, combined with sustained, daily engagement from with their parents (or caregivers).
Now, this article goes on to clarify that by “parentese” they do not mean the normal baby talk language.
Here’s what they say:
“We now think parentese works because it’s a social hook for the baby brain — its high pitch and slower tempo are socially engaging and invite the baby to respond.”
So, now that we’re clear that it’s important to speak parentese with our kiddos, the question becomes:
How do you do that? Let’s talk about that next.
How to Use This Special Parenting Language
If you want to learn how to use parentese, there’s a lesson you can learn from the Tonight Show.
Fans of Jimmy Fallon will be familiar with his popular book, “Dada.”
Reading Fallon’s “Dada” book with your child helps you practice “parentese” concepts.
As you’re reading it you engage in a back-and-forth. The text is simple. The pictures change. Yet the text repeats the word “Dada.”
And eventually, your kids will catch on…
…and start participating in the refrain.
Do this enough times and you can feel a bond strengthening with your child. It’s a connection that exists beyond an emotional level; the relational exchange occurs in the repetition of words.
And that gets to an important lesson from research on “parentese:”
How you communicate with your baby influences her speech development.
Another way of putting it? You can influence your baby’s language development for the better.
That’s right. You, as a parent, have this power.
While experienced parents might roll their eyes at this…
It’s a powerful realization for new parents.
Yet there’s a challenge that creeps up when you become aware of this reality.
That’s what we talk about next.
Anxiety About Language Development is Normal
If you have a lot of anxiety around your child’s speech development, know this:
You are not alone.
When thinking about when babies start talking, every parent deals with this.
All parents worry about all sorts of things with their kids If you’ve ever read a parenting forum board…
…you’ll notice trends in what parents worry about.
- A daughter not babbling often.
- A younger child not talking as often as the older one.
- A parent is worried, the doctor isn’t worried at first, but then recommends a referral.
We’ve experienced many of these worries ourselves. Anxiety after having a baby is so common that they gave it a name: postpartum insomnia.
But there’s something particularly nerve-wracking about language development.
There are endless questions that pop into your head like:
When do babies start talking clearly?
- Start talking in sentences?
- start talking AND walking?
- …and so on.
So knowing that your kiddo is on track with their language skills is a big relief.
The main thing to know is this: It’s normal for a parent to have concerns.
Don’t be shy to bring them up with their doctor.
But until you do, don’t stress yourself out worrying about every little change.
Each child is different. And parents of more than one kid will remind you: No child develops on the same timeline as another.
But, if you do find yourself ruminating…
There are a few things you can do for more peace of mind. And that’s what we’ll talk about next.
Do This for Peace of Mind
Once we started tracking our son’s developmental milestones, we worried less.
If you follow this strategy as your child gets older, you’ll be able to watch for warning signs too.
And here are certain developmental milestones you can monitor that are related to when babies start talking.
If you monitor these milestones, you’ll be in a better position to identify warning signs early.
And this alone will alleviate many of your worries, in two ways:
First, it’ll make your worries more specific.
By making them more specific, you’ll reduce some of the anxiety with it.
Without making your ruminations specific, you’ll only be limited by the terror of your imagination.
Second, it’ll allow you to structure your worry so you’re not ruminating all the time.
As a parent, you have enough going on in life not to be worrying all the time.
By giving some structure to your worries, you’ll set a benchmark for your worries.
For example, if you know by a certain month they should be crawling…
Then four months before that, you don’t have to be wondering “should they be crawling by now?”
And so on.
Now, the question becomes: “what’s the best way to keep track of these?”
One resource we’ve found helpful is the CDC.
And it’s not just the info on their website:
They have an app that’s super helpful too.
Once you start tracking the milestones, you’ll have some data at hand to discuss during your next conversation with your pediatrician.
Two Things to Consider About Your Pediatrician So You Feel Comfortable Talking To Them
In this section, we’re going to talk about some things to consider when choosing a pediatrician.
If you aren’t careful could affect your ability to work productively with them.
Now, this is something that affects how you work with your pediatrician.
Cause if you don’t feel comfortable talking to them, it’s not going to be a good relationship for you or your kids.
We’re not trying to point the finger at pediatricians.
Rather we are talking about the importance of good communication between YOU and YOUR provider.
One area where communication is key is when it comes to expectations.
Expectations you have for what might have on a doctor’s visit…
And expectations a provider has for what they are supposed to do.
Let’s look at one example.
One physician writing in the New York Times shares this tidbit:
“To ensure your child is developing properly, your pediatrician will check for autism at the 18-month visit using a screening tool called the M-CHAT.”
In our experience, the reality can be quite different.
Your physician may use this tool, no tool at all, or some other tool.
A survey by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2017 found that only 74% of pediatricians reported using the M-Chat.
What can we learn from this?
1 Doctors are humans too.
While there are many things standardized in medicine, the physician’s discretion sometimes into play.
That’s why communication is more important than ever.
2. Your relationship with your Pediatrician affects your baby’s health.
This builds on the previous idea of communication.
And it gets at why communication is so key.
Because if you don’t have good communication with your provider…
You’re not going to have a positive working relationship.
And let’s be clear:
A positive working relationship is something you have to develop with your pediatrician.
One way of looking at this is that you are partners with them in caring for your child.
You bring parenting expertise.
They bring medical expertise.
It’s a dance together to help your kids stay healthy.
And just like in dance, if one person isn’t in sync with the other…
It’s going to be harder to whirl around the dance floor.
And you need to be able to feel ok speaking with them about your concerns.
That way if you encounter any of the warning signs we talk about next, you won’t hesitate to contact them.
When do babies start talking?
10 Warning Signs To Watch For
We watched tensely as the doctor inserted a foot-long ear tool down our son’s ear canal.
We were standing next to an examination table our son was laying on.
It was a chilly room, with a dark brown table and an 80s aesthetic.
The physician, an experienced ENT, was in his element.
Watching the doctor, we could tell he’d done this a million times…
…yet my mind raced with so many questions
And it tried to calm itself with even more answers.
You see, we’d come to see this ENT after a roller coaster of a year dealing with about eight back-to-back ear infections.
Our pediatrician referred us to the ENT for further evaluation to see if our son needed ear tubes.
This year of ear infections had been quite a roller coaster.
We’d gone through, it seemed all the different antibiotics on the market…
Plus had to use a nebulizer…
And countless sleepless nights, doctors’ visits, and various home remedies…
Luckily, through this process, we’d become familiar with some things to watch for.
They were things to watch for to make all these ear infections weren’t negatively affecting his hearing.
It’s something that when it was first mentioned we’d thought:
“Huh? What does hearing have to do with speech development?”
But as it turns out, hearing ability is closely linked to speech development.
And when you think about it intuitively, it makes sense:
If a child is going to learn to speak, they need to understand the language they are hearing around them first.
Think about it like learning a foreign language.
Ever try to learn Spanish (or any other language) on your own?
Now, imagine trying to learn what words mean when the words are distorted.
You get the idea.
So if you want to be aware of what to watch for in hearing development so you can keep track of whether your child is on track…
Check out the warning signs below.
Infant to 5 months:
- Are they coo-ing?
- Do they laugh when happy and cry when sad?
- When you talk to them do they make noises back?
From six months to under 1
- Do they respond to “no-no”
- Makes the classic baby babbles
- Communicates with their hands
- Mimics you, or tries to
- Speaks the golden first word
From one year to 17 months
- Responds to simple questions
- Imitates simple words
As parents, we all worry about our kids.
When they’re babies, we want to know that our babies are on track with their development. If you’re worried about it, worrying alone can suck your mental energy.
Yet, it’s common to be concerned. And it’s important to be mindful of how things are developing.
But it’s also important that you don’t drive yourself crazy with worry! that can make you more stressed out than you need to be.
There are tools and resources available to you to help you keep your anxiety in check. And if you’re looking for other ways to reduce your stress, check out this list of parenting hacks.
If you use an app to track milestones, it’ll make discussing your child’s development with your pediatrician easier.
The important thing is not to worry yourself to death.
This process will free you from many day-to-day worries.
Instead of worrying each day, focus on making the most amazing baby year ever.
After all, while time passes slowly from day to day…
Years from now, it’ll seem like only the blink of an eye.
So, when do babies start talking? At the end of the day it all depends, but with these tips and warning signs to watch for, you’ll be prepared for what’s ahead.