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Spotting a Delay

When it comes to language development, "there is a very broad range of normal," says Dr. Macias. So while one 3-year-old is telling detailed stories about his day, another might still be using only simple three-word sentences. Another way to judge how your child is progressing: the extent to which other people can follow what's he's saying. Parents often understand much of what their children are trying to say, but it may sound like gibberish to outsiders. As a rule, Dr. Macias says, strangers should be able to understand half of what the child is trying to say by age 2, three quarters by age 3, and by age 4, there should be no confusion -- speech should be pretty clear.

As long as your child's language development is progressing and he's hitting the age-related targets, there's usually no cause for alarm, says Dr. Macias. But if he's not hitting the typical milestones for his age, or you suspect a delay for some other reason, talk to your pediatrician. "The earlier we catch it, the better the outcome," Dr. Macias says.

Starting with her first cries, your baby yearns to communicate. Sure, she wants you to know that she'd like a dry bottom and a full belly. But what she wants most of all is a stronger bond with you -- something you'll feel every time you hear a sweetly cooed "Mama" or the heart-melting "I love you." Value these kinds of exchanges, and pat yourself on the back for having helped your baby learn to express herself.

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