Communicating with your 0 - 2 year old

From the moment of conception your baby is not only starting to grow but is also developing skills it will need to communicate.  Did you know babies develop their hearing from 20 weeks old in the womb!

When babies are born they are pre-programmed to tune into the world around them and this is to help them to survive.  Your baby will start to communicate with you in a range of ways by crying, making sounds and starting to use their face to express their wants and needs.  Even though your baby cannot yet talk they want to interact with you!

Here are some ways to encourage this:

  • Be face to face with your baby- make sure they can see your face by holding them close, leaning over them during nappy changes and looking at them during feeding times.  Your natural instinct will be to smile at your baby and don’t feel silly talking to them because they will love to hear the sound of your voice.

  •  When you talk in sing songy tones, your baby tunes in and starts to recognise your voice over anything else.
  •  At first your baby may start to make sounds- respond to this by copying them - your baby will love this and this starts a back and forth interaction just like a conversation!  

 Top Tips - How to help your child

  • Follow your child’s lead- this means watching what they are playing with or looking at, and waiting to see what they do, then join in or copy them!
  • Following your child’s lead also lets them know that how and what they are playing with is important to you and this builds your child’s confidence to explore further.
  • At first, keep what you say simple- this means that when your child looks at something they want, label it for them using only one word. This is important because it teaches your child the important word. If you talk in a sentence like ‘oh you want a banana, here you go let me peel it’- your child does not know what the important word is - Banana!
  • If your child uses a dummy, make sure your child has plenty of time to practise their talking skills by making sure they only use it for comfort at sleep times. If a child uses a dummy for long periods throughout the day, they find it hard to make sounds and move their tongue around in their mouth because their dummy keeps their tongue still.

What to expect at different ages

0-12 months old 
  • Babbling, like mamama, dadadada, this is your baby practising for talking
  • Looking at you and responding to your voice
  • Using facial expressions to communicate their needs- smiling, laughing, crying
  • Exploring the world through play- banging, throwing, mouthing objects
  • Enjoying people games like Peekaboo
  • Copying gestures like clapping  
1 - 2 years
  • Using gestures like pointing, waving or doing a high 5
  • Saying first words (these may still not sound like the adult version)
  • Copying words and actions to songs
  • Bringing things to show you
  • Starting to pretend play with block, cars, dinosaurs, baby etc
  • Focussing on a play activity they enjoy for around 5-10 minutes
  • Understanding very simple instructions like ‘get your shoes’
2 - 3 years
  • Using around 50 words and understanding much more
  • Joining words together by 2 and a half- 3 years old
  • Asking questions such as ‘what’s this?’
  • Having a conversation with you
  • Showing you play ideas such as driving cars and crashing them, flying helicopters, making dolls sleep, enjoying dressing up
  • Saying the sounds /pbtdnm/ in words
Some other things to try
  • This video from Cheshire East Chatters shows how to comment on what your child is doing.
  • Offer your child choices- at meal times, ask them ‘do you want bread stick or banana?’. When you child points or reaches, say the name of the object for them to they learn the important word.
  • Leave pauses when you play- don’t feel you have to talk to your child all of the time when they are playing. If you talk to much they find it hard to listen as doing two things at once is very tricky for young children. It is better to wait and see if they start the conversation and then respond.
  • Interpret what your child is saying- if your child points at something, label it for them using one word ‘aeroplane!’ or ‘juice’. If your child is trying to say a word, say it back to them as an adult would- this will help them hear the sounds.
  • Play 'point and see' when you are out and about.
  • Children love repetition so books and songs are really helpful in teaching children how to tune into language. Songs that have actions or books that have different textures can encourage children to engage.

Further Support  

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Page last reviewed: 12 January 2024

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