What if my child still isn’t speaking in sentences?

Did you know that most toddler tantrums are due to language problems? Toddlers get frustrated when they can’t verbally express what they want or how they feel.

“Give wahbbah ducky. Now. Now. Wah-wahbah ducky.”

A sentence – or series of fragments – like that might sound like a sign of a speech problem, but this type of unclear sentence is very common among toddlers, and will usually get better over time just from hearing and absorbing more full sentences over time. It is called “broken fluency.”

Broken fluency happens when a child is having difficulty speaking words in a correct manner, or if they are struggling to put words together in clear sentences. Toddlers who are experiencing this will elongate words or repeat certain letters and syllables, making it difficult for them to compose a sentence.

It’s common for parents to compare the way their child speaks with the speech patterns of other children of the same age in order to determine how their little one is doing verbally, but other children’s progress isn’t always a useful way to look at your little one’s verbal skills. Language development is different for every child. Some can easily construct a logical five-word sentence before they turn two, while others are still figuring out how to do it into the third year.

Helping your child speak in sentences

When a child is learning to speak in sentences, hearing and being exposed to language is the most important and effective way for them to learn. Having conversations with them is a great way to encourage this development, and reading to them gives them the chance to get engaged in something they're listening to even when they isn’t participating in a verbal exercise out loud.

Whether you’re reading or speaking, you’ll be able to help Baby’s language development best by bringing life to the words that you’re using. It’s more helpful to show Baby a concrete example of the words that you’re saying, rather than just saying them. For example, show your child how to put their toys in the toy box, instead of just giving an instruction. Even if they have already heard the words you’re using, or has some understanding of them, the specific example will help them stick in their head.

Beyond normal development

However, there are language danger signs that might start to reveal themselves around a child’s second birthday.

  • A two-year-old who cannot compose a simple noun-verb sentence using two words
  • Repeating one-syllable words (“My-my-my pillow”)
  • The child has developed secondary behaviors when speaking, like blinking, tapping the leg, or jerking of the head
  • Does not speak much or avoids speaking
  • Has trouble learning new words
  • Pauses in speech
  • Facial tension when the child is trying to speak

If you notice these signs, and are concerned about your child’s pace of language development, their pediatrician will be able to talk you through whether they need a little extra help getting their communication skills up to speed.

  • “Childhood fluency disorders.” American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Retrieved December 13 2017. https://www.asha.org/PRPSpecificTopic.aspx?folderid=8589935336&section=Signs_and_Symptoms.
  • “Language delays in toddlers.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 18 2011. Retrieved December 13 2017. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/toddler/Pages/Language-Delay.aspx.
  • “Spoken language disorders.” American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Retrieved December 13 2017. https://www.asha.org/PRPSpecificTopic.aspx?folderid=8589935327&section=Treatment.

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