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1-Year Old: Development Stages

1 Year Old: Language

When do children usually say their first words?

Beginning at around 12 months, if you listen carefully to your toddler's babbling, you'll likely hear your child's first actual spoken words.

What are the most common first words?

Not surprisingly, the most typical first words are "mama" and "dada," followed by words that your toddler hears repeatedly day after day, such as "hi," bye-bye," and "no."

Does my toddler understand what I'm saying?

Your young toddler understands many more words than you think.

Between 13 and 20 months, your toddler's brain develops in a way that allows it to process speech more quickly. This makes your child better able to understand what you are saying.

Watch for motions, such as picking up or pointing at an object that you name, that indicate that your toddler knows what you are talking about.

What happens in the brain to help young toddlers acquire language?

As you might imagine, the human brain—a wonder in its complexity and capabilities—takes some time to develop. At birth, your newborn's brain was only one-quarter of its adult size.

Nature makes sure that the parts of the brain that control basic bodily functions—such as breathing, sleeping, sucking, and swallowing—mature first.

The connections that form in your toddler's cerebral cortex help to provide a better understanding of language.

How can I help my toddler learn to talk?

Talking to your toddler frequently and using a rich variety of words can greatly help with speech development. In fact, some experts say that language is the area of development most affected by intervention.

Here's how you can help:

  • Be a narrator. One of the best ways to help your child learn to talk is to talk to your child. Talk about what you're doing; talk about what your child is doing; talk about the things you see.
  • Have a conversation. Toddlers like to feel that they are part of the speaking world. If you respond when your child says a word or two to you, he or she will have a sense of accomplishment and be flattered by your attention.
  • Be your toddler's echo. Restate or expand upon whatever your toddler says to you. For example, if your child says, "Outside," you can say, "Yes, let's go outside to take a walk in the park." This lets your child know that you are listening and trying to understand.
  • Repeat. Unlike adults, toddlers love repetition. Your toddler will love it if you repeat rhymes, songs, and stories over and over. Repetition helps toddlers remember the language that they are desperately trying to learn.

My 15-month-old hasn't spoken any words yet. Should I be concerned?

Not necessarily—some young toddlers are the silent type. Some toddlers say no words at all before age 18 months. This does not mean that there's a problem, or that they don't understand what you are saying. Some children may not be "talkers" early on. And boys tend to develop language more slowly than girls.

My 18-month-old just started talking. Is this normal?

"Normal" language development varies. Some children may say more words sooner; some may say fewer words later. What's most significant is that you notice an increase each month in the number of words your toddler says. If you're worried, talk to your health care professional.

Now that my child is talking, how quickly will new words be learned?

Your child's vocabulary will expand fast. By about 18-20 months, toddlers can say anywhere from 20 to 50 words.

Most children, by their second birthday, will probably be using 2- to 4-word sentences.

Why do toddlers start talking a lot more just before their second birthday?

Some time after about 18 months you may notice that your toddler—who knew maybe 50 words—is all of a sudden using new words every day.

Researchers have noticed that this development takes place at about the same time that significant changes occur in an important language center of the brain known as Wernicke's area. They speculate that an increase in the number of synapses—connections between brain cells—in Wernicke's area helps greatly with the understanding of word meaning*.

Ref: * Bogen JE, Bogen GM (1976). "Wernicke's region—Where is it?". Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. 280: 834–43

Related Topics: 1-Year-Old: Think & Learn

Why does my toddler want me to read the same book over and over again?

Toddlers love repetition. As your toddler becomes wise enough to recall the sequence and details of a story, being able to predict what comes next makes a child feel very powerful. While it may be boring for you, it's helpful learning for your child.

My 1-year-old seems to have a short attention span when I try to read to him. Should I worry?

No. Toddlers are meant to be on the go and thus have a hard time sitting still for long. Just read for as long as your child will sit still. Trying to make children sit will only turn into a battle that takes away from the enjoyment that they can derive from books at this age.

Let your toddler wander away if he or she wants to, but keep on reading. Your child may wander back when your voice captures his or her interest again.

Some parents find that their toddlers are better listeners if the reading session takes place during snack time. If their small muscles are busy, their large muscles may be less likely to be busy.

When will my toddler start to have a memory?

Toddlers typically start to have memories around the first birthday. By about age 12 months, the hippocampus—the part of the brain responsible for memory—will mature enough for your toddler to start to remember things that occurred within the past day or so.

What sorts of things might 1-year-old remember?

Your 1-year-old may have quite a good short-term memory, and might remember a lot of details about an experience, such as an exciting trip to the playground. However, since the hippocampus—a critical memory area of the brain—is still developing, a 1-year-old still lacks a sense of time, and therefore may not be able to recall whether the trip happened yesterday or a week ago.

How can I help my child to learn and remember?

You might try putting the words into a song. For some reason, young children seem to retain songs, rhythms, and chants especially well. Apparently, music and melodies help the brain to store information. So try singing the "alphabet song" if you want to help your child start learning the letters.

When do toddlers start to imitate other people?

Around age 18 months, your toddler's memory will have developed enough so that he or she will remember seeing you perform an action, and will repeat it again some time later when you're not expecting it. This is called deferred imitation. For example, your child may pick up a toy phone some time after seeing you on a call.

When do toddlers start to pretend they play?

During the second half of the second year, the areas of your toddler's brain that allow abstract thinking will become more fully developed. Once the child is able to think in this manner, you may notice a greater interest in fantasy or pretend play than in more basic play experiences such as banging objects together or climbing.

What do I need to teach my 1-year-old?

Actually, toddlers don't need to be taught—they just need you to allow them to learn. Toddlers are quite capable of developing thinking skills on their own. You simply need to talk with them, listen to them, and pay attention to whatever activities hold their interest.

Young toddlers can learn a lot on their own. If you observe carefully, you'll notice your little scientist setting up experiments. For instance, your child may take an object and throw it, then take a different kind of object and throw it, just to see what will happen with each.

How can I help my 1-year-old to develop his thinking skills?

Even young toddlers can make simple decisions. Let your child make choices when possible. Allow your toddler to choose between the white and the blue socks or between the apple and the banana at lunchtime.

Is painting or coloring an appropriate activity for a 1-year-old?

Yes, if you allow your toddler to be creative in an individual way. Remember, it's the act of creating and not the final product that matters. Your child's first artistic creations may be a little open to interpretation. But it's the experience of painting or drawing that provides an important learning experience.

Will flash cards help my toddler learn colors?

It really isn't necessary to use flash cards or other "teaching aids" to help your toddler learn. Young children learn best by using all of their senses and exploring their normal environment. All that they need is you and other concerned adults who can respond and talk to them as they go about their business.

Try referring to colors as you come across them during your normal activities ("Your shirt is blue," "The car is red"). This approach is likely to be as effective as flash cards, if not more so.

Related Topics: 1-Year-Old: Playtime

Why is playing important?

In short, for a young child, playing is learning. Play helps children to learn about the world around them. In addition, play gives children the chance to exercise control over their own lives for a little while. They can make choices, direct actions, and make up the rules.

Through play, children are able to practice their language, social, fine-motor, and gross-motor skills. In addition, the creativity and imagination required can help stimulate mental development.

I took my 1-year-old to a playgroup the other day and my child didn't seem to play with anyone. What could be wrong?

It actually sounds as if your 1-year-old is quite normal. Young toddlers typically engage in what's known as "parallel play"—they'll sit next to one another while each is involved in his or her own task. They don't usually interact with one another.

Don't worry. After developing and gaining language skills, your child will be ready for more co-operative play.

My 1-year-old seems to have trouble sharing toys. What can I do?

Your toddler's inability to share is perfectly normal. At this age, a child doesn't really understand what sharing means.

With young toddlers, it's best to have lots of toys available when playmates come to visit. However, even then, be prepared to help sort out the squabbles that will arise.

If your child seems particularly possessive, it may help to let your toddler choose a few favorite toys to be put away. Having some "say" may make your child feel more willing to share other toys.

What toys are suitable for 1-year-old?

Appropriate toys include:

  • Push toys/pull toys
  • Blocks
  • Keyboards, drums, and other musical toys
  • Board books
  • Shape sorters
  • Dolls and stuffed animals
  • Play household items (dishes, phones, etc.)
  • Cars, trucks, trains
  • Balls
  • Riding toys
  • Large crayons
  • Play clay or dough

Is it okay for my 1-year-old to watch television?

Some experts do not believe that television is appropriate for young toddlers. For instance, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend television for children age 2 years or younger*.

Ref: * http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2011/10/12/peds.2011-1753; accessed on 21 Feb 2012

My 1-year-old doesn't sit still long enough to play. What can I do?

Your 1-year-old actually is playing, but is just choosing to work more on large motor skills right now. Young toddlers have a lot of energy, and they're still learning the finer points of running, jumping, and climbing. Give your child plenty of room to run around and climb safely.

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