What to look for in communication skills in your child

November 19, 2015



This post is dedicated to what to look for in speech + language skills as your child moves from preschooler to school aged child. During this time period, there are many changes and developments in the land of speech and language.

Reminder before you proceed: There is a big range of development in speech and language skills. Once kids hit 3 or so though, there are patterns to skill development and less variation as children age. My advice is always the same, if you have questions or concerns about any part of your child’s development, talk to your pediatrician and gather more information. One more thing: this list is not exhaustive. Please think of the list below as an outline or highlights.

What to look for in general with learning in 3 to 5 year olds

  1. First give your child (no matter how old) some space and time to see what they do on their own for a few minute intervals.
  1. Notice how your child operates: Are they a kid that likes to watch first and then attempt something new? Would that rather launch right in and try something? Is your child more of a planner, thinking about what step to take next and practicing this before moving ahead? There are many ways to learn and think and engage with new tasks. Keep your child’s learning style in mind as your child grows.
  1. Be sure to build in time to play. This may mean different things to different families. The point is, children, learn through pretend. They develop skills such as problem solving (There’s only one toy tow truck. Will I get a turn?), conceptual knowledge (Are there enough plates for all the baby dolls to eat at the table?) and social emotional skills (Oh my friend likes that puzzle the best). Make time throughout the week to play with your child/children. 

When to worry in general:

If your child loses skills they’ve already mastered, if your child is drooling and speaking very unclearly or if your child shows no interest in interactive games with others or pretend/make believe.

What to look for in speech and language skills:

3 year olds

- look for your child’s understanding of some concepts: spatial terms (in/on/under), size (big/small) and descriptors (wet/dry)

- look for your child’s speech to grow clearer (you should hear more consonants than you did 4-6 months prior). Most people should understand your child most of the time.

- listen for your child’s statements to get longer ( 2 words turns into short sentences at this time)

When to worry:

If your child doesn’t speak in little sentences, if your child doesn’t follow simple directions (get your shoes), if your child doesn’t use pronouns like I, me, my, you and your most of the time.

4 year olds

- listen for questions. Your child should be asking who, what, where and sometimes when questions at this age.

- look for your child’s understanding of some colors (find the red hat) and shapes (circle, square, triangle)

- listen for your child’s ability to talk about recent experiences (getting scared at Halloween, finding a toy that was missing, etc)

When to worry:

If your child’s grammar seems to be stuck or very ‘off’ (most of their verbs are incorrect – The dog eat it food, I no like a one), if your child does not answer yes/no or wh-questions asked of them, if your child cannot engage in thinking about simple problems (why doesn’t this cup fit in this backpack? Because it’s too big)

5 year olds

- look for your child to follow complex directions (Get your toothbrush and find the toothpaste, then bring it all here to me)

- look for your child to understand a much larger range of concepts such as sequencing terms: first/next/last or higher level spatial terms: in front/ in back/above and opposites

- listen for most of their speech sounds to be correct. Later developing sounds might still have some mistakes at this age: l, s, r, z, ch, sh, th.

When to worry:

If your child does not ask or answer why+which questions, if your child’s speech is unclear to others, if your child has difficulty following directions


Here is an easy to read resource from CDC by year

* 3 year old milestones

* 4 year old milestones

* 5 year old milestones 

One last note: talk to the other adults in your child’s life: your child/children’s teachers, day care providers, nannies, family members or other caregivers. They often have a wealth of insights into your child’s skills and responses to frustration. Often when parents or guardians begin the conversation, you’d be surprised at what you notice together, about your youngster. Thanks as always for reading. Till next time, take care. 


Vanessa D’Auria is a licensed speech-language pathologist providing home-based services in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. For more information about Vanessa, visit speechtherapyvanessadauria.com or to ask speech/language questions, email directly at speechtherapynyc@gmail.com.


Photo Credit Sameyaranu



Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.