Parenting Perspectives: Language breakthroughs at every age

My latest Parenting Perspectives column, printed in The Forum Dec. 25 …

My house is on the verge of a language explosion.

Little Owen, now 16 months, babbles from morning to night, forming every consonant sound along the way. But he has yet to meld these syllables into many words beyond “mama” and “dada.”

Honestly, I’d been a bit worried about his language development. Big sister Eve started talking before a year, and I don’t think she’s stopped to take a breath since.

At one of Eve’s toddler check-ups, the pediatrician asked how many words she knew. I had no clue. She was stringing together sentences as long as eight words by then.

Logically, I know boys tend to pick up verbal skills later than girls, and Owen is well within the range of normal. A developmental screening showed me so.

He communicates, the child development screener reassured me. He points his perfectly pudgy hand at exactly what he wants. He sharply nods his head once for yes and shakes it like an oscillating fan for no. He taps his index finger against his palm to mean “more” and wiggles his fingers for milk, his own adaptation of the common baby signs.

But spoken words are such rewarding milestones. And once baby knows enough of those words, parenting gets just a bit easier. It’s not so much of a guessing game of what your child wants or needs.

One day, Owen was in his high chair. “Wawawawawa,” he babbled.

“Water?” I asked. “Do you want a glass of water?”

When I started to fill his sippy cup at the kitchen sink, he shrieked in delight and understanding. I call it our Helen Keller moment. I’m anxiously awaiting more.

Meanwhile, 4-year-old Eve is advancing her language skills as well, beginning to read. It’s amazing to watch her take these 26 letters we’ve been reciting for years, attach sounds to their shapes, and put it all together. It’s like something just clicked in her preschool head.

Thanks to my husband, Craig’s, patient efforts each night, she’s now reading us bedtime stories. We write down random words to make sure she’s reading and not just reciting.

One day Craig wrote down f-a-r-t. Eve studied it, and politely said she wasn’t going to say “that word” aloud. He added h-e-r to the end and she sounded out “farther.”

Eve’s foray into reading has also made me realize just how difficult our language is to decode, as I try to explain why there’s no “sh” in sure; why the “gh” makes no sound in light or through but sounds like “eff ” in enough and tough; why “o” can also sound like “ah” or “ooh” or “ow;” why Christmas doesn’t start with a “k” and why the “ch” doesn’t sound like it does in church.

“Some words are just silly,” is my best explanation.

Such silly words to read, and so sweet to hear.

Sherri Richards is mom to 4-year-old Eve and 1-year-old Owen and a reporter for The Forum. She blogs at topmom.areavoices.com

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