Q&A: How Many Words Should a 2 – 3 Year Old Say?

CME WebsitesChild Development, Toddlers 12 - 36 Months

blockquote_bgMy daughter is 31 months and doesn’t say many words (about 15 at the most). She babbles a lot and points or pulls you by the finger and takes you to what she wants. She seems to have great comprehension; you can tell her to go get her pink shoes, for example, and she will do this. Could something be wrong? She is kept at home by her grandmothers and doesn’t get to have a great deal of interaction with other children. I have bought some Baby Babble tapes and this has helped a little.

By 31 months your daughter should have well over 50 words and be combining words into at least 2 word sentences/phrases such as “me want” or “my toy” or “Mommy go”. By three she should have around 200+ words. She should be repeating new words and repeating phrases as well and adding new words to her vocabulary on a weekly basis. Perhaps if her grandmothers or other adults are anticipating all her wants and needs, she realizes she doesn’t “need” to talk to get what she wants. Since she has 15 words, that is a good indication that she had the ability to add more words to her expressive vocabulary. You can check our link for 24-16 months and what is typical for speech development at this age, and there are a few speech activities listed at the bottom of the page as well.

I would definitely recommend that you contact your local early intervention provider and ask for a speech evaluation for your daughter. Expressive speech delays are very common in toddlers and many of these children are understanding language at an age appropriate level, but without therapy they begin to get frustrated by not being able to express themselves and be understood by adults. The earlier you seek speech therapy the quicker she can make progress and be on the road to age appropriate expressive language skills.

I would recommend to you and her grandmother’s that you try to set up situations within her daily routine where she has to use a word or make an attempt at using a word. For example, instead of having her cup where she can always reach it, place it out of reach and when she points to it ask “what do you want?”, “Do you want your cup/juice/milk?” “Tell me cup/juice/milk”. Or when getting dressed “Do you want to wear the red or the pink dress?” Praise her for any attempt and don’t withhold items if she cannot say the word or becomes overly upset or frustrated, but do give her ample to time to attempt a verbal response. Give her choices whenever possible, such as “Do you want to read the book or play with the baby?” If she points to the baby, re-phrase it for her and say “Oh, you want to play with the baby!” “Use your words, tell me baby” and again praise for any attempts even if she only makes a “b” or “ba” sound. Be a good speech role model and put all her single words back into sentences for her. If she says “ball” you say “Yes, you are playing with the red ball”.

Keep a word list on your frig and share it with her grandmothers, so they can encourage her to use the words she currently has and do not accept pointing if she can say “book” she needs to use the word book before getting it. For words she already knows you can be a bit more persistent in with-holding items until she uses the word. Sing songs and leave words off, such as “Twinkle Twinkle” and sing “Twinkle, twinkle little ___” and see if she will attempt to sing “star” to fill in the missing word. Use books and name pictures for her and say “I see an AP-PLE” exaggerate words and sounds for her and allow her to look at your lips/mouth as you form words or use a mirror and have her look at her own lips/mouth as she attempts to make sounds. You can play silly word games such as only repeating sounds “la” “ma” “ba” “ta” or break words apart and have her repeat each syllable and then try to put the word together such as “Ca-at”= cat or “p- ig”=pig. Encourage her to repeat fun sounds like animal and environmental sounds “woof woof” “meow” or “beep beep” “whooo whoooo”. To strengthen muscles needed for speech you can encourage her to drink from a straw rather than a sipper cup or use an open cup. Blowing bubbles or blowing a piece of paper across a table using a straw is also good oral motor play. This is the link for contacting Early Intervention Services in your state.