Why Is My 2 Year Old Not Talking?

Last updated October 21st, 2020

Unfortunately, there are some cases where a baby takes too long to talk. Sometimes, they may have already learned a few words and then starts “losing” them. This can be quite worrisome for any parent. So why is your your 2 year old not talking?

There are plenty of possibilities as to why your little one is not yet talking. It may be because she’s just taking her time, or it may be a sign of an issue that she needs professional help with.

Talking is one of those baby milestones that parents are always excited about. Some parents watch out for those first words as soon as their baby starts cooing. It’s a precious moment of pride and joy when a baby starts saying their first words.

I remember feeling so amazed when my toddler started making cohesive statements. It’s that realization that your little one is verbally starting to make sense and tries to communicate with you.

It may not be full sentences, just fragments or even just a word. But it is equally just as fulfilling to hear your baby ask for “milk” or tell you that he has “poo” in his diapers.

What is normal?

Here is an outline of what you can normally expect from your little one in terms of language and speech in the early days:

Infancy

At around the age of six months, you will normally notice your baby starting to jabber. What they say won’t make any sense, but they will ramble on as if they are actually talking. It’s what many parents would call “baby talk”.

Early Toddlerhood

The real first word (one that makes true sense) comes out normally between the age of ten to fifteen months. In American English, the top ten most common first words in descending order are as follows:

  • Mommy
  • Daddy
  • Ball
  • Bye
  • Hi
  • Dog Baby
  • Woof-woof
  • Banana

Your baby might have a different first word, but these are among the most common ones first spoken by most babies. It may vary to some degree if your family speaks another language. However, staples like the words for mommy and daddy are always part of the list.

Mid-toddlerhood

Typically, a 2-year-old knows about 50 words and is capable of stringing sentences made up of 2 to 3 words. Phrases like “more milk”, “wear shirt”, or “good puppy” are what you can expect from your little one at this age.

Between the ages of fifteen to eighteen months, your baby should increasingly pick up more and more words. Before they reach the age of two, they can usually put together the words that they learned. They then form simple sentences or fragmented statements at the least.

Bear in mind, though, that this is merely the average. Some children may utter more words, while others may utter less. It is not the exact number that you have to watch out for, but rather just a reference to see if you have anything to worry about.

From there, a child’s language normally progresses. Their vocabulary grows with the passing time. It moves on forward until they make fuller and more complex statements.

A word about language development

Talking is only one aspect of language development. Parents tend to hinge on it because it is unarguably the most obvious aspect. It also happens to be the most delightful and amusing one.

However, the sounds that we make with our voice and mouth are do not solely constitute the entire realm of language. We also need to understand the meaning of the words we use, the context in which they are used, and what we do with the information we get from the context.

That is why, aside from just looking out for the words that your child may utter, try to gauge their understanding as well. Can they follow simple instructions? Do they understand if you are expressing happiness? Do they stop in their tracks when you rebuke them from doing something bad?

It’s a complex process all in all. Children and their developing minds are going through a whole lot when developing language.

When to worry

Child doctor visit

Some parents easily feel pressured if someone else’s similarly-aged child speaks more than theirs. For kids, it can be frustrating to not be able to voice out something that is bothering them.

This is the reason why younger children tend to throw tantrums. They easily get frustrated with not being able to let others know how they feel or what they need.

The older and more verbal a child is, you will notice the tantrums to pipe down too. It is therefore normal for a young child who has not yet mastered language to get upset more easily.

Language delay red flags

If your toddler is only saying single-words at a time, but is clearly trying to communicate or “tell” you something, he or she might just have a bit of catching up to do.

It only gets worrisome if your 2-year-old is extremely far off from that average. A 2-year-old that does not say even a single word, for example, or a child that only babbles like a baby may be a cause for concern.

Another cause for concern is if your toddler suddenly is unable to say words that he or she has already previously learned and mastered. “Losing words” may be a sign of something going on that may need further evaluation.

So when do you worry about speech and language delays? What if your already-two-year-old is still not talking much, or not at all? Here are a few red flags of a serious problem:

  • Your child does not pay attention to you or other people. It may seem like they do not notice or respond to sounds, music, games, or moving toys.
  • The child does not recognize his name. When you call out to your baby, they should respond, look at you, or turn towards you beginning at least at 6-9 months of age.
  • Your child does not display any communicative gestures. These include nodding or shaking the head, waving hi or by, and pointing at something.
  • Your child cannot follow simple instructions like “show me your tummy!” or “can you give me your doll?”
  • You cannot understand more than half of what your child is trying to say.

What causes language delay

There may be several possibilities why your 2-year-old is not talking. Here are some possible causes for speech or language delays in toddlers of this age:

Mouth issues

A condition called ankyloglossia can cause speech delay. In layman’s terms it’s called tongue-tie. It happens when the tongue is connected to the floor of the mouth, making it difficult or impossible to pronounce certain sounds.

Early on, in infancy, it may present itself when an infant fails to latch when breastfeeding. It makes certain sounds difficult to pronounce, particularly: D, R, L, S, T, Z, and Th. Your child may need surgical intervention for this problem.

Hearing loss

If your child is unable to hear well or at all, he or she will have difficulty forming words because of a lack of proper reference. Parents may notice their child responding more to gestures than sounds, such as acknowledging you when you point to a dog rather than when you say “look, a dog!”

However, hearing loss may have a very subtle presentation. Parents may not even be aware of their child’s hearing loss, and a speech delay is the only symptom.

Lack of stimulation

If you barely speak to a child, they will not hear enough language that they can mimic. Cases of extreme neglect or abuse often present with children who have language delays.

A child’s environment can greatly influence the formation of language. They tend to pick up words and speech based on the engagement and interactions they have with their regular caregivers.

Speech and language delays

It is important to understand that speech and language are two different but interconnected things. A child that comprehends but only speaks a handful of words may have a speech delay, and a child that blurts out lots of words but is incohesive may have a language delay.

Premature birth is a common cause of such delays, along with other developmental delays. Another culprit is childhood apraxia of speech wherein a child is unable to coordinate complex oral movements to create sounds that form into words.

Autism

Autism spectrum disorder often presents with speech and language problems in children. Children with autism may regress in terms of language development, have a difficult time interacting socially, and find it difficult to communicate in general.

Neurological issues

Neurological problems may cause speech and language delays in children. These include the following:

Intellectual disability

Finally, although not as common, a possibility of why your toddler is not talking may be because of a cognitive disability. This requires a thorough evaluation from a therapist.

Factors that increase the risk of language delays

There are actually certain risk factors that increase the likelihood of language delay for children. According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, these are the identified risk factors:

  • Being male
  • Having been born premature
  • Low birth weight
  • A family history of speech and language problems
  • Having parents with low education levels

Bear in mind, though, that these risk factors only increase the chance of speech and language problems. They do are not the actual causes of speech delay in children.

What to do to encourage your child to talk

The good news is that we parents can do something about our children’s speech and language development. We can help and coax it to grow and develop through these simple yet meaningful activities:

Talk to your child

This may be so obvious that parents take it for granted. It doesn’t help that technology is so readily accessible that both parents and children are glued to their screens more than they talk to one another.

Make a deliberate effort to talk to your child. You don’t have to recite Shakespeare to your baby to help their language skills. Simple descriptions of everyday activities already have a tremendous effect on their language development.

When you are out for a walk, talk about the flowers on the sidewalk, the dogs that are walking too, or the cars that drive by.

When at home, talk about what you are doing. Lunchtime is a great time to talk about the different types of food, smells, and texture. Describing things in the house like the fan or the table also helps.

Read to your child

Read to your child

Bedtime stories are not just fun and fosters an emotional bond between you and your child. It has a host of other benefits too when it comes to their development.

Through reading, you can teach your child about new words and how to use them. It is a great way to improve and expand their vocabulary and speaking skills. Finally, it fosters a love of reading at an early age.

You can start this as early as you like. Some parents even start reading to their babies while still in the womb!

Play talking games

Children learn best through play. That is why it is best to teach them language skills through fun and games. There are plenty of fun learning activities you can to do encourage them to talk. Here are a few examples:

  • Pretend telephone game
  • Sing nursery rhymes and songs that they seem to like
  • Play “name the thing”
  • Play with puppets
  • Pretend-play such as tea parties and pirates

Rhymes and songs

Nursery rhymes and songs were made especially for children for a reason. The whimsical rhymes can catch your little one’s attention and make him or her more interested in words and language.

Singing songs in the car as you drive around, or at home while playing or just passing the time is a great idea. Try to see if your 2-year-old is interested in songs and rhymes and try to inject it a couple of times during the day.

Build on what she knows

Your toddler may know a handful of words. You can expand on that so that it is easier to learn new words since they are connected to the words they already know.

For example, if your toddler knows the word “dog”, you can build on it by saying “dog is sleeping” or “dog is eating”. This way, your little one equates the action of the dog to the new word you just introduced.

Give your child time to respond

Sometimes parents can get overexcited and tend to talk over their child, not giving them time to respond. A few seconds of silence after you make a statement or question give your child an opportunity to answer back and have a conversation with you.

Rambling on and on may teach your child a new word or two, but not having the chance to say these new words will not give them the practice they need at talking and using the words they just learned.

Show her that you’re listening

Whenever your child talks, babble, or seems to be trying to communicate with you, make an effort to show her that you are listening. Make eye contact, face them, and respond.

If you show your child that you are listening, it encourages them to talk more because they have your full attention. Also, don’t forget to praise your child whenever they try to talk or tell you a new word.

Can you prevent this concern early on?

You don’t have to wait until you have a non talking 2-year-old before doing all of the activities suggested above. You can do it even to newborns. Stimulation and consistent engagement means that your child has the best chance at learning and developing her language and speech.

It also means that you are doing whatever you can to make sure that your child grows and develops at a good pace. Don’t be frustrated, though, if your child does not immediately pick up on the things you are saying. Remember that it takes consistency and time before they finally learn to say the words.

Conclusion

If your 2-year-old is not talking, it may or may not be a cause of concern depending on how little your child is talking or if your child is exhibiting other behavior or symptoms such as self-harm.

Language development is a very complex process that your toddler goes through. It takes months to develop and years to master, and every toddler will have his own time and pace. Take note of the age range for speech and language development and don’t panic.

What if my child is already experiencing language delay?

What if you already have a non-talking two-year-old in your hands?

If you find that your child is already so far off from the age range, it is best to seek help from an expert. Getting help early on will determine whether or not there is an underlying problem that is causing the speech delay.

Remember that children develop at their own pace and talk in their own time. However, if there are serious concerns behind speech delays, getting to the root cause early on could mean having better outcomes for your child in the long term.

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