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Encouraging Language Development in Your Preschooler

Topic Overview

Children's language development is likely to progress more rapidly when they are given frequent opportunities to interact with both children and adults.

Talking with other children

Children who frequently play with others who are about the same age usually develop expressive language skills more quickly than those who have contact only with adults. Young children speak very directly and simply, which helps other children learn speech.

Talking with you and other adults

Children develop and improve their speech and language skills by talking with their parents and other adults. These discussions also help children form mental images of people, events, and places, which are important milestones in thinking and learning. Talking with adults introduces proper grammar and complex sentences to children.

But your child can pick up poor grammar too. Your child learns from even very simple conversations. During ages 4 to 5, your child is likely to learn many swear words. Your child will hear adults swear when they are angry or stressed. And your child will find that people react strongly whenever he or she uses swear words. Try to be a good role model and not use swear words. Also, try to get your child to not use swear words.

Parents often gain more insight into their children's feelings and thoughts as language skills increase. Sometimes conversations with young children turn up important fears or anxieties that parents can help manage. Keep calm when your child tells you something disturbing. Children don't always express themselves using the same language as adults. For example, a child may say "Johnny wants me to jump off the building at school" and really mean that he is afraid of using certain equipment on the playground.

Here are some tips to help your child learn new words and use longer sentences:

  • Add to what your child says. For example, if your child says "red ball," you can add another word like "soft red ball."
  • Describe feelings. For example, when your child is crying because he or she cannot go outside to play, you can say, "You are upset and feel sad because you can't go outside now."
  • Teach your child the correct names for common objects, such as "toes" (not "piggies") and "cut" (not "owie").
  • Don't imitate your child's unclear speech, constantly correct, or embarrass your child by making him or her repeat unclear words, especially when other people are around. Correct your child in a positive way by rephrasing, repeating, and relabelling.
  • Encourage your child to talk to others, including other children his or her age. But don't force your child to talk or make him or her uncomfortable by insisting on conversation.
  • Don't talk for your child. For example, allow your child to ask you for something he or she wants.


Reading to your child daily helps him or her to develop speech and language skills. Reading together also offers a time of quiet comfort and bonding.

  • Choose books that show lots of action. Ask your child to point to familiar items and make the sounds that go with them. Say "Point to the fire engine" and "What sound does the fire engine make?"
  • Visit the library on a regular basis.


Limit TV and computer time to less than 1 hour a day for children 2 to 4 years old and 2 hours or less a day for children older than 4. And it's best for children younger than 2 to not watch TV or movies or play games on a screen. TV doesn't seem to encourage or support children's development of speech or language skills. In general, spoken words make little impression unless they are in the context of a conversation with someone the child knows and cares about.


Current as of: September 20, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
John Pope MD - Pediatrics
Thomas M. Bailey MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Louis Pellegrino MD - Developmental Pediatrics