Look who’s talking: The top 5 things parents should know about speech and language development

If you’re a parent or caregiver to a child, it might seem like they change and grow every day. And that’s because they do! Children are always learning, exploring, and developing, which includes the way they communicate, both verbally and non-verbally. Speech and language development begins long before any words are spoken. If concerns or questions arise, addressing them early can benefit overall health and success later in life.

At Public Health, we work in partnership with community agencies to provide speech and language information, education, therapy and programming to preschool-aged children (birth to the start of senior kindergarten) and their caregivers through the Wee Talk Program. There is no cost to families and a referral from a doctor is not required. In fact, we encourage parents and caregivers to self-refer their child.

The following are the top 5 things Public Health wants parents and caregivers to know about speech and language development.

1. Parents and caregivers play the most important role in children’s speech and language development

Parents and primary caregivers play the most important role in communication skills development, which is why the Wee Talk program emphasizes parents’ and caregivers’ active involvement in treatment. Parents complete the Wee Talk Parent/Caregiver Orientation (either online or in person), participate in therapy with their speech-language pathologist (SLP), and continue home programming and activities as advised by their SLP.

2. Early detection and intervention are key.

If parents have questions or concerns, big or small, they should never hesitate to reach out and ask questions. Speech and language disorders are often mistakenly brushed aside as a normal part of learning to talk, or the assumption that a child may just be a “late talker”. However, it’s never too early to talk to a speech-language pathologist.

3. You’re not alone.

Speech and language disorders affect about 5 to 10 percent of children aged 0 to 6. In fact, in 2018, 802 preschool-aged children were enrolled in the Wee Talk Preschool Speech and Language program.

4. Familiarize yourself with common communication milestones.

As children grow, parents are caregivers should notice children reaching new stages in their communication. We suggest parents refer to our speech and language checklist that shows common speech and language behaviour at different ages. By 9 months old is your child responding to their own name and babbling? By 12 months are they saying 3 to 5 words? When referring to the checklist, it’s important to only look at the age category that is closest to your child’s age right now, and do not refer an age that is older than your child’s age.

5. Limit the screen time and increase face-to-face communication.

Children learn best with face-to-face interaction, not through a screen. Limiting the amount of screen time is important for the healthy development of speech and language in children. This includes exposure to TV, tablets, smartphones and even some toys. It has been shown that children under 12 months of age who view two or more hours of TV per day are six times more likely to have a language delay. Read more about screen time in our blog post: Screen time: How much is too much for preschoolers?

Questions? Concerns? Don’t wait. See the answers to  frequently asked questions about the program and how to contact us with questions, more information, or to refer your child.