My son is 14 months old. He only says momma and dadda or daddy. Should he be saying more words or am I being a paranoid mother? He jibbers and jabbers all the time. I try to get him to say sippy, cup, or ball, but still no progress.
The expert answers:
It is perfectly normal to be concerned about your toddler's development, but in this case it sounds as if your son is developing language normally. The average age for a child to say his first word is just around the time of his first birthday. Boys are often a little behind this benchmark, and girls are usually -- but not always -- ahead of it. By 14 months, I would expect a child to have very few true words.
What you need to look for now is your child's intent to communicate. Usually, a child will direct your attention by pointing and babbling. More important than the first words is the intent behind the sounds you hear. He should be trying to show you what he is interested in. He may do this by, as you say, jibbering and jabbering, or he may point to something he wants you to notice. If he is not successful in his initial attempts, he may start to yell or cry. It can be pretty frustrating for a youngster who can't seem to get the little muscles in his mouth to cooperate with everything he wants to tell you. But that frustration is also a good sign -- it tells you that he is trying to communicate.
Using sign language is one way to build a bridge between a child's desire to communicate and his ability to speak. Now, some well-meaning folks may tell you that your child will talk later if he can sign instead of speaking. In fact, it appears that using signs to facilitate communication in babies and toddlers can actually speed up their ability to communicate with caregivers, reducing frustration all around.
You can begin by making up some simple signs and using them consistently. For example, when it is time to eat, you can make a motion of putting something into your mouth as you tell your child "eat." If you are offering your child a drink, make a motion of lifting a cup to your mouth while you say "drink." Do this each time you use the word you are trying to teach and your child will catch on quickly.
There is no need to come up with a sign for every single word you say, just pick and choose the words that you think will help your son express himself. You might choose a few food words and add simple signs for the words that are important to toddlers. Shoes, outside, night-night, and diaper are a few words that kids seem to learn early.
If you are interested in learning more about signing with your baby, there are two books you might want to consult. The first is Sign with Your Baby: How to Communicate with Infants Before They Can Speak by W. Joseph Garcia and the second is Baby Signs: How to Talk with Your Baby Before Your Baby Can Talk by Linda Acredolo, PhD, et al. Both offer practical advice on how to incorporate basic sign language into your child's routine and both demonstrate some common signs you can use with your baby or toddler.
In order to be successful in this endeavor, you will need to be consistent and patient. If your child has additional caregivers, make a list of the signs you are working with so they can use the signs to communicate with your child.
In the next few months, you can expect your child's language skills to explode. By his second birthday, he should have an expressive vocabulary of approximately 50 words (though he may not be able to pronounce them all perfectly), and he should be putting two words together. Before you know it, you'll wonder why you were ever worried.