Your Baby from 16 to 18 Months: Baby's Language Development

The Magic of Make-Believe

"Somewhere between 16 and 18 months, toddlers shift from copying others to symbolic play," says Stephanie Leeds, PhD, director of education and child studies at Cazenovia College, in upstate New York. "This means they have the imagination and cognitive abilities to pretend an object stands for something else."

Your child may bark like a dog as he crawls around your feet, or use dolls to imitate people. He'll put a bowl on his head and insist it's a new hat, or use a banana as a phone. Your child's pretend play is a cornerstone for future learning. "Reading and writing are all about symbolic representation," Leeds notes. "So this ability to imagine is an essential developmental step."

From the Pediatrician: Sara DuMond, MD

Q. Do you know how many words your child can say?

A. We'll be asking you this question at your toddler's next few checkups, so be sure you're paying attention to what's going on -- and what's being said -- at home. By this age, most kids have a vocabulary of 10 to 15 words. And it doesn't matter if only you can understand the words -- we still count them, and so should you!

Making Memories

"The last memory milestone is verbal recall," says Lise Eliot, PhD, author of What's Going On in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life. Children will begin referring to events from memory almost as soon as they can talk, and "verbal recall improves dramatically during the toddler and preschool years." Some children can even describe events from infancy, proving that language is not, as was once believed, a prerequisite for storing memories.

However, emphasizes Dr. Eliot, "although language isn't required to make memories, it does play a key role in making memories last." Once children develop the linguistic skills to create narratives, they can "place their own personal recollections into a framework of time, place, and causality, ensuring that their memories survive the transition from childhood to later life."

Holly Robinson lives with her five children outside of Boston.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, March 2007.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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