Has your toddler started repeating words over and over again? Many parents become concerned that their toddler is suffering from some form of obsessive-compulsive disorder or some other developmental issue.
Fortunately, repeating words is perfectly normal. It is a toddler’s way of learning the word and its meaning. What seems odd to us is a toddler’s way of becoming familiar with the sound, feeling and meaning of a word, and repetition is the way it works best.
Word Repetition as a Milestone in Child Development
Word repetition is considered a milestone in child development and usually occurs between 15 to 18 months. Children learn through repetitiveness and the act of repeating the word helps instill it firmly in their memory.
Repeating Words at Two and Three Years Old
Between the ages of two and three, your child will start to continuously repeat the same words and phrases. At three years old, your toddler will also enjoy hearing the same stories, songs, and nursery rhymes over and over.
This is your toddler’s quest for learning and it also serves as a comforting mechanism. Toddlers enjoy familiarity in both their day-to-day schedules but also in the phrases they continually hear and repeat.
Studies have found that repetition of the same words helps your child learn.
Echolalia is the term used to describe when toddlers repeat themselves. Often a child will not only repeat himself but also repeat the words that you have just spoken. Children start learning language by repeating words because they lack the knowledge and strong enough language skills to utilize various words correctly in the form of questions and sentence structures.
Toddlers Start Forming Sentences at Three Years Old
As your child enters his third year of life, he will start to create his own sentences and style of speech. At this point, he will start to repeat words less frequently.
Toddlers should be able to master at least fifty spoken words by 24 months and put two words together to form a short sentence, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Echolalia: When There is a Problem
Although repeating words over and over again is a hallmark toddler milestone, it can also indicate a problem such as autism. It is estimated that 85 percent of autism sufferers exhibit echolalia.
With autism, the phase of echolalia lasts far longer than 30 months and is often a symptom of autism that persists for the sufferer’s life.
Sharing in Your Toddler’s Growing Language Skills
Between 12 and 14 months your child becomes like a mini tape recorder. He will not only be repeating words he has learned but he will also be repeating your words and incorporating them into his vocabulary, according to Rahil Briggs, Psy.D., a child psychologist at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City.
At this stage, your tot should also start putting together two-word phrases. Often a toddler’s pronunciation will be a bit off, but you will usually be able to grasp what he his saying.
The best way to help your child’s budding vocabulary is to talk to him all the time and read to him. Children especially enjoy rhymes at this age.
When to be Concerned Over Your Toddler’s Language Skills
Your toddler repeating words over and over is a perfectly normal developmental milestone. However, there are certain signs that your child might be having problems with their language skills.
Here are a few red flags to watch out for when it comes to speech development.
- If your toddler does not use at least 8 to 10 meaningful words before his second birthday.
- Fails to follow simple commands such as “stop” “no” “give it to me” “touch your nose” or “come here”.
- Does not look at you when you are talking to him.
- Fails to follow your pointing finger with his gaze.
- Does not repeat words by 24 months.
- Does not repeat two-word phrases by 24 months.
- You cannot understand at least some of your toddler’s speech.
- Is not using words or language.
- Does not point to pictures in a picture book when asked.
- Only communicates with whining, grunting, groaning, or some other sound.
- Uses only body language to communicate.
What the Experts Say
“Between 15 and 18 months, repeating a word over and over is a toddler’s way of grasping how that word is used. Kids this age learn words through repetition, as well as by enjoying their rhythm and patterns. That’s why they also love rhyming songs and books. You know your child’s learned something when you read her favorite book or sing her favorite song and she notices when you leave out a word,” according to Jacqueline Haines, executive director of the Gesell Institute for Human Development, in New Haven, CT.
“Every child develops on his own timeline, but the best way to help develop your baby’s language skills is to simply talk to him. The number-one way children learn to speak and boost their vocabulary is by listening to their parents at home,” says Rahil Briggs, Psy.D., a child psychologist at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City.
“Parents who repeat words more often to their infants have children with better language skills a year and a half later. A lot of recent focus has been on simply talking more to your child—but how you talk to your child matters. It isn’t just about the number of words.” said co-author Rochelle Newman, professor, and chair of the University of Maryland Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences (HESP).
“The most important thing to do to encourage a child to talk is to talk to them and engage with them. Children learn to talk by hearing others doing it, so exposing a child to language is hugely important. “ says speech-language pathologist Nicole Magaldi, chair of the Department of Communication Disorders and Sciences at William Paterson University.
“While boys do tend to speak later than girls, parents of boys still need to know what the normal speech-language developmental milestones are so they don’t let ‘boys talk later than girls’ rationale prevent them from being concerned about their son’s development, “ says Jann Fujimoto, a speech-language pathologist with SpeechWorks.
Sure hearing your toddler repeat the same words over and over again can become annoying and at times try your patience and sanity. However, you should rejoice in the action because it is a significant milestone and indicates your child is well on his way to learning successful speech.