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How to Communicate With Children From Birth to 5 Years

Children play outside

The way your child communicates will change a lot between birth and the age of five, and children have a language of their own. Knowing what to expect can help you understand and respond to your child in meaningful ways. Here are some parenting tips for communicating with your child during the first five years.

  • Age birth to 1 year — Communication during your baby’s first year may be a bit one-sided, but don’t let that discourage you. You have to figure out what the crying is all about. Just the sound of your voice can be nurturing to your baby. As your baby begins to make sounds and eventually form words, you can repeat the words back to your child, which encourages speaking and listening skills. By the end of the first year, your child can often respond yes or no — either vocally or by a head nod — to simple questions.
  • Age 1 to 2 years — By now your child is learning to say many new words and may understand even more. Try some casual communication and patiently try to answer what may seem like an endless string of questions like “Why?” and “What’s that?” You may soon discover that you can speak and understand your toddler’s own little language.
  • Age 2 to 3 years — Toddlers will continue to be curious. They may talk to you about everything from a boo-boo or lost toy to the highlight of their day. Continue to be patient and give your toddler your full attention whenever possible so it’s obvious you care what he or she says.
  • Age 3 to 5 years — At this point, children begin to communicate more like miniature adults and you can have more structured communication. To help, you can ask specific questions like, “What did you read in school today?” You and your preschooler can also communicate through books, music and play.

As your children get older, make sure they feel safe talking to you. Let them know you care about what is on their minds. Taking time to check in with your children helps them feel secure talking with you about their fears and problems.

The Defense Department offers a variety of resources for parents with young children:

  • The New Parent Support Program helps parents and expectant parents develop the skills they need to provide a nurturing environment for their children.
  • The New MilParent specialty consultation available from Military OneSource offers personalized support for a wide range of parenting issues for expectant parents and parents of children up to age 5.
  • ZERO TO THREE is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to “promote the healthy development of our nation’s infants and toddlers.” Its site provides a substantial amount of research-based, practical information on a number of topics. Check out their tips on helping your child learn to communicate.
  • Thrive is a free, online parenting education program developed by Penn State’s Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness and the Defense Department Office of Military Community and Family Policy. Thrive offers positive parenting practices, parent and child stress management and physical health promotion for children ages 0-18. Learn more about Thrive’s age-specific online programs, including the supplemental module Exceptional Families. You can also check out their downloadable Resources for Parents.
  • Installation Military and Family Support Centers offer a variety of personal and family life education programs and services to help parents increase resilience, build and maintain healthy relationships, and strengthen communication and problem-solving skills.
  • The Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! podcast from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Early Childhood Development provides information for parents about celebrating milestones, the importance of health screenings, how to identify delays and early concerns, and how to provide developmental supports for children.

Learn more about children’s developmental milestones, and if you have concerns about your child’s development, speak to a pediatrician.

Train Your Parenting Communication

Work on your parenting communication skills with the Building Healthy Relationships specialty consultation and be ready for conversations later.


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