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Vidant Medical Center

James and Connie Maynard Children's Hospital
at Vidant Medical Center
2100 Stantonsburg Road
Greenville, North Carolina
(252) 847-5712


Communication and Your 2- to 3-Year-Old

Communicating with our kids is one of the most pleasurable and rewarding parts of parenting. Children learn by absorbing information through daily interactions and experiences not only with us, but with other adults, family members, other kids, and the world.

Communicating With Your Child

The more interactive conversation and play kids are involved in, the more they learn. Reading books, singing, playing word games, and simply talking to toddlers will build their vocabulary and teach listening skills.

Here are a few suggestions to help improve your child's communication skills:

  • Talk to your toddler about what he or she did during the day or plans to do tomorrow. "I think it's going to rain this afternoon. What shall we do?" Or discuss the day's events at bedtime.
  • Play make-believe games.
  • Read favorite books over and over and encourage your child to join in with words he or she knows. Encourage "pretend" reading (letting your child "read" a book to you).

Vocabulary and Communication Patterns

Between the ages of 2 and 3, kids have a huge jump in language skills:

  • At age 2, most kids can follow directions and say 50 or more words. Many combine words in short phrases and sentences. Kids this age usually can follow two-step instructions, such as "pick up the ball and bring it to Daddy."
  • By age 3, a toddler's vocabulary usually is 200 or more words, and many kids can string together three- or four-word sentences. Kids at this stage of language development can understand more and speak more clearly. By now, you should be able to understand about 75% of what your toddler says.

Kids should be using language freely and starting to solve problems and learn concepts. They usually can engage in a simple question-and-answer session. They also can count three objects correctly, begin to tell stories, and know their first and last name.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

If you think your child has trouble with hearing, language development, or speech clarity, talk to your doctor. A hearing test may be one of the first steps in finding out if your child has a hearing problem. Age 2 is not too young for a referral for a speech/language evaluation, particularly if a child is not following directions, answering simple questions, or saying enough words.

Communication problems for 2- to 3-year-olds include:

  • hearing problems
  • trouble following directions
  • poor vocabulary growth
  • unclear speech
  • stuttering

Some parents worry that a toddler who is not speaking may have autism. Children with autism and related conditions may have delayed speech or other problems with communication, but poor social interactions and limited or restricted interests or patterns of behavior are also hallmarks of this disorder.

If you have any questions or concerns about your child's development, talk with your doctor.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: June 2019