Language Difficulties

Many toddlers are slow to talk or speak in garbled words. Here's how to handle some of these language challenges.


Two-year-olds come a long way where speech is concerned. But, with rare exceptions, their pronunciation is not crystal clear. Garbled words and difficulty making certain sounds, such as th, w, and s, are common among toddlers and even many preschoolers. Most of this will disappear on its own without requiring any intervention from you. Avoid correcting your child or having her practice the sound. It's certainly not productive to make her feel self-conscious about the way she speaks.

Many parents also fret over delayed speech. If you suspect your child has a problem, consult your pediatrician. If there's a bona fide lag, it should be addressed right away so that appropriate therapy can be started. The possible causes for delayed speech are many and wide ranging. The most common is temporary hearing loss due to repeated ear infections. Other possible causes include a host of environmental and medical problems, even brain damage in very extreme cases.

Some slow-to-talk kids may progress if parents spend time conversing with them often during the day. Others need medical help. In some cases, the problem can be likened to a "wiring problem" in the brain-there's no damage per se, yet the brain is, in a sense, not hooked up correctly. These children are intelligent but may need intensive language therapy to correct the problem.

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Stuttering is another problem that can surface between the ages of 2 and 4 years. This repetition of sounds, syllables, words, or phrases affects about 1 out of 20 preschoolers and is three times more common in boys than in girls. Usually, the problem is a temporary one, the result of the mind's racing faster than the child can form words, and goes away on its own in a few months.

Don't correct a child's stammering or difficulty in forming words; some experts believe that doing so repeatedly will only make a child tense and exacerbate the problem -- even to the point of turning a preschooler's temporary stammer into a lifelong stutter. Insecurity fuels stuttering. If your child has a stammer, praise him for all the activities that he's good at, and don't draw attention to his speech. Don't use labels, and above all, avoid showing-by words or your facial expression -- that you're worried about the problem. If your child's stutter is severe, or if it is accompanied by grimacing or facial tics, call your pediatrician for a referral to a speech and language specialist.

Other, albeit more subtle, problems with language can arise when children grow up in homes where there is little conversation between parents and among parents and children. A child's resulting inability to use words to express herself can affect her performance in school, especially in writing.

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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