waiting for the (language) explosion

Okay, I’m the last person you want to talk to about mother’s intuition. Well, maybe not the last, but certainly not in the top ten. But, see, I’ve been worried about Happy Fun Baby’s speech for, oh, ever, but until now he wasn’t officially a late talker. I don’t even know if he officially is now, but since the rumored 21-month language explosion never came, I think I can express a little concern. Not a lot of concern; a reasonable amount of concern.

He’s just not all  that interested in talking. Not like he is, say, in music, or watching Blue’s Clues (one of his words is “Blue,” complete with hand opening and closing). He doesn’t mimic much speech, but he’ll try to make music out of everything.

I don’t think it’s a hearing issue. It’s not like he has no words. He babbles constantly, and does this adorable thing where he inserts words into a sentence of babble: “Diddle diddle diddle iddle show?” It’s like he’s having this whole conversation, but the only thing we can understand is the one word. Like it’s totally us, we’re the problem, if we would just get with the program and learn his language then everything would be fine.

Not So’s father didn’t talk until he was three (the father, not Not So), so, I don’t know. It shouldn’t be an issue. It’s not an issue, right? My kid’s always been on his own schedule; why should this be any different?

And he’s starting to use words to communicate. He’s just begun using “No” correctly, which is…good, but also kind of annoying. Like the other day, when he was turning on the faucet in the bathroom, and I said “Please don’t do that. Get down from there,” and he responded with a cheerful, emphatic “No.” Uh, yeah, kid, kudos for using the right word and saying what you mean…but you’re still getting down.

I was talking to another mom the other day, someone with a kid close to Happy Fun Baby’s age, and mentioned that, you know, he’s finally really starting to talk, and she was aghast. Like, the kind of aghast that barely conceals a pointed question about my parenting skills. Her kid, she said carefully, had about a hundred words by the age of one. Subtext: What the hell is wrong with you? Or, worse: What the hell is wrong with your kid?

There’s nothing wrong with my kid, I don’t think. He’s just a late talker. And that’s probably okay. The problem, honestly, is with me: I feel like Happy Fun Baby’s lack of verbal acuity is a direct indictment of my parenting skills. Which is ridiculous. I didn’t feel like the fact that he walked super early was evidence that I was a good mom (in fact, I worried constantly that people would judge me for “pushing” my kid, when in fact I was doing no such thing). A lot of what I hear as judgment from other parents is probably just them making small talk. I might have stepped on some toes by mentioning that Happy Fun Baby was walking when other parents were struggling with their kids’ disinclination to stand, just by virtue of opening my mouth.

Dude. You probably thought this was going to be one of my “entertaining” posts. Boy were you ever wrong.

10 thoughts on “waiting for the (language) explosion”

  1. OMG, thank god I am not the only mother worrying about these kinds of things! I have 3 kids, ages 6, 3, and 2. My oldest son barely talked by the time he was 2, and when he did he was so quiet, then he goes to preschool at age 4 and fails a HEARING TEST, naturally I feel like a terrible mother when I take him to the doctor and they tell me his ears are infected and he is hearing like he is under water. He never complained once, and is hardly ever sick, ended up having tubes in his ears and now won’t ever quit talking…
    Well anyway, I also have a 3 and 2 yr old. My 3 yr old says sentences, but she is kindof warbled, hard to understand at times. (And I have had both of their hearing checked, call me paranoid…) my 2 yr old says a lot of words but no sentences, he “babbles” and it sounds sometimes like he is talking in French…Well the Ped. says their speech delays might be because they are together so much, but one thing I try to do is repeat their sentences clearly when they ask for something, and make them “use their words” to ask. The debate I am having is my nephew is the same age as my daughter (age 3) and they are putting him in speech class, I don’t know WHY because you can have a conversation with this kid, but now my husband says “why aren’t you putting her in speech class”? and he is saying that he thinks it’s my fault because I don’t “work” with her, which is bull, because she knows her shapes, some colors, loves to read books, and can write/recognize the first couple letters of her name. She’s not, like, silent or anything! I think if a kid is perfectly healthy and doesn’t talk, well you can’t really FORCE them to turn into the loudest kid in the room!


  2. The guidelines where I live are that you should contact speech therapy services if a child does not have 10 words at 18 months (these don’t need to be pronounced properly – just sounds that roughly correspond to words and are used appropriately, like “dah” for “dog”), or the child is not putting together two-word combinations by 24 months. Those guidelines are meant to catch everybody who can benefit from speech therapy – it’s not like the kids who qualify for assessment will all have problems or delays. Speech therapy is really just about playing with the child and supplying the parents with some useful strategies to encourage those first words to come out. It’s really not scary!


  3. Hi. This is the first time I’ve read your blog, so I don’t know much about your toddler. (And I should say that I really like reading your take on motherhood — you sound a lot like me.) I would echo what the other commenters have said — it is most likely no problem at all that he isn’t talking much yet, unless you’ve noticed other big developmental delays). The kids I”ve known mostly seem to excel at one thing or another as babies (which does not necessarily correspond to later strengths), and the fact that he was such an early walker might just mean that a lot of his particular energy has gone into physical stuff like that and not language development. When my first son was a baby he sat up at 4 months, but my friend’s daughter of the same age didn’t until 8 months. At the time I silently wondered if she was a bit “special.” But of course she did eventually sit up and do all the other normal baby stuff, and spoke very clearly and with a highly developed and sophisticated vocabulary quite early. At 5 she is what I call “scary smart,” as well as being quite physically active and coordinated.

    Also, just because he isn’t choosing to say much that is clear now doesn’t mean he isn’t building a vocabulary that he’ll pop out with when he does start talking. Around the same time that I was wondering if the girl was special, another friend’s boy was still not talking at 2, although he was quite a physical child. (Again, being a first time parent myself, I wondered if there was something wrong with him.) He didn’t even say Mama or Dada until 2 1/2, when he suddenly started talking up a storm and within a month or so he had pretty much the normal vocabulary you would expect from a child his age, and quickly moved from single words to sentences. I remember him casually pointing to a fire engine and saying “red fire engine,” although his mother said they had not seen or talked about a fire engine (either real or in a book) for at least six months. At seven he’s still a fairly quiet, independent kid, but when he feels like talking he has an fine vocabulary and is excelling at a French immersion school. By the way, a friend of ours is a psychology prof who specializes in child development, and she always theorized that he didn’t talk because he didn’t need to — his mom was so in tune with him that his needs were met seamlessly. He wasn’t coddled, she just seemed to know what he wanted and fulfilled the need. Unlike my 14 month old who gets incredibly frustrated because I just don’t know what he wants much of the time. Another friend’s son barely talked until he was over 2, and now is a chatterbox who cracks me up all the time because he sounds like a little adult when he talks.

    I know it’s hard not to worry. My second son is 14 months and I don’t worry about nearly as much as I did with the first one (now 5), but I still do worry about things that I would tell a friend NOT to worry about. In fact, I found your blog by googling “toddler constantly cranky.”

    Sorry for rambling on. I took prescription meds for the cranky toddler-induced migraine, and now I”m flying high. But I’m being WAY more patient with the constant whining. Good thing I don’t have an addictive personality. 🙂


  4. You guys, thank you for the great comments! It’s so nice to hear real-life examples of kids who aren’t reciting Shakespeare by their second birthdays. I was a super early talker and so was my sister, but the funny thing is, I remember that my brother talked late & my parents were worried that there was a problem, but I (at 10 or 11) was like “He’s fine. He just isn’t ready to talk yet.” And then, yeah, pretty much complete sentences by the age of 3. Being a parent gives you a different perspective, I guess. Especially a neurotic parent like me. 😛


  5. Hey there Crankymama,

    Ok first of all, every kid has their time table. Boys in my family tend not to talk until they are close to three and then it’s in full sentences. My daughter walked at like 8 mos old (stood up at seven months) and was playing soccer on her first birthday, did she talk? Um…well…When she felt like it…she’s still not overtly verbal at 14! She’s a visual artist though! When she is upset I have two cues, she has either a crochet project, or the sketch pad and the charcols out. (And then at night I’ll see that poor worn out Elmo doll, the one she teethed on as a baby…but that’s ONLY when things are like majorly bad like a fight with a best friend)…

    Basically if you are SUPER UBER Concerned ask the doctor. Other than that, remember humans are individuals, and those numbers are an average, not a rule. I was an early talker, neither of my kids were, but my brother’s daughter was and his son wasn’t. We’re all quite smart and functional 🙂


  6. It’s going to be okay. Like They say, all kids are different. But of course you’re taking it personally, you’re his mama. If you didn’t care, that would be an issue for another post.

    Tiff’s been a chatterbox for quite a while, despite her lack of meaningful language skills. We know she has the words, she just refuses to use them when we’re around or interacting with her. It’s only been very recently that she’s decided to start using her words to communicate with us. Is this my fault? I’m not going to go there.

    You’re doing just fine.


  7. Your son is way ahead of mine at that age. Mine wasn’t talking AT ALL when he hit 2. His pediatrician referred us to a speech therapist, which made me freak out (“OMG my baby will be in special ed” – understand my brother was in it, and didn’t have such a great experience) until we got there and realized it was just so much play. It DID give him confidence to say things the “wrong” way and still be understood. And when his language finally did explode just before his 3rd birthday, he was discharged. Now he won’t shut up. 😉


  8. It’s hard not to worry, isn’t it? Completely anecdotal that may or may not help, my nephew babbled unintelligibly, but it sounded like real language that we just couldn’t understand. It wasn’t until he was around three that we began to understand what he was saying. Now at seven he is doing just wonderfully.


  9. Your post reminds me of an old joke I once heard. It seems there was a mother with a problem very much like yours. Her child — seemingly normal in every other way — was not talking. As the youngster got older he was taken to doctors and subjected to tests and given all sorts of visual and auditory stimuli designed to elicit speech, but nothing worked. Finally, the mother was so distracted thinking about the problem one morning that she accidently burnt the toast while preparing breakfast. The kid looked down at his plate, then up at his mother and said, in perfect english “The toast is burnt”. Stunned by her kid’s obvious ability to speak, she couldn’t help but ask — “Sheldon! You can talk! Why haven’t you said anything before?” Sheldon smiled sweetly and said off-handedly ” Up to now, everything was okay.”

    Relax. I’ve been through it all. My son didn’t start talking until he was almost 4. He wasn’t retarded or slow and he grew into an inteligent adult with no speech or intellectual abnormalities. The fact that Ellison walked sooner than most does not mean he will grow into a great athlete, and his slow start on speaking is equally meaningless. Count your blessings. By this time next year you’ll probably spend a great deal of your day telling him to shut up.

    Or you could always try burning some toast.


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