I notice that my 2 1/2-year old child is very physically active but doesn’t have many words yet. Should I be worried?
Dr. Susan Rutherford (MOM): You can certainly ask your pediatrician about it, but it’s very hard for a child (and maybe even all of us as adults) to excel in all areas of growth at the same time. Often it might feel disproportionate on the surface. For instance, a child might be very physically active and coordinated and is a handful because of it, but she is not talking or using many words. We should realize that she’s focused on mastering a whole lot of physical skills right now.
Sometimes, you see just the opposite happen, where a child will be verbally precocious but really undeveloped physically: not physically coordinated or interested in physical activity. Her focus is on language acquisition rather than physical prowess. That will come later.
MOLLY: That was my daughter: a late talker who would rather pull things towards her than get up and walk to get them.
MOM: Your sister was just like that ,too.
MOLLY: Whereas my younger one is climbing up onto everything but at 18 months he’s still not talking yet.
MOM: I would say to parents that, in general (of course they can check this out with their pediatrician), that I wouldn’t be too concerned about it.
MOLLY: As long as it seems like the child is understanding what’s happening? I mean you don’t want to get it confused with something like autism and then miss the early cues.
MOM: No, but there are signs of autism other than language development. Lack of eye contact… there are a number of other things. I’m not saying to ignore it but I’m saying that it’s not usual.
MOLLY: So as a child, you develop one area first. You don’t develop every skill at the same rate all at once?
MOM: Right: for babies, learning doesn’t all go as seamlessly as you might intuitively think it should.
MOLLY: We were worried about my daughter because she wasn’t talking until later either, at least around 2. Remember, we have two languages in our house (my husband speaks Russian to our kids) and even though people may warn you that your kids will talk later because of the dual-language environment, when it actually happens, it feels really disconcerting. You can’t help but worry.
MOM: Right, you think there’s something wrong. More and more families have a bi-lingual household and those kids definitely start speaking later. The other important thing to remember about language is that there’s a receptive part and an expressive part. The kids with dual languages do really well with the receptive function: if someone speaks either language to them, they will understand almost everything communicated. But they are often unable to express themselves verbally until later. That will happen, but it comes later and they catch up nicely.
MOM: Dr. Susan Rutherford is a Clinical Psychologist who has been in practice for over 30 years. She has degrees from Duke University, New York University (NYU), the University of Denver.
MOLLY: Molly is Dr. Rutherford’s younger daughter and the mother of two children under six.
This blog is about raising kids and how our parenting decisions now can have long term effects.