Toddler Communication Skills: 2 to 4 years

Language development explodes from between the ages of two and four, as their vocabulary, understanding and communication skills flourish. These skills are an essential foundation for how they will interacting with others and they significantly impact cognitive, social and emotional development and their future lives in school and beyond.

Communication milestones

By the time your child reaches her second birthday she should have mastered: pointing to common objects and three body parts and labeling familiar objects such as cup, dog and shoe.

Language development explodes from between the ages of two and four, as their vocabulary, understanding and communication skills flourish.
2 year old

Most 2 years olds can: follow a 2 step instruction, use more than 50 words (half will be unintelligible), make phrases of 2 or more words, use simple plurals and personal pronouns, and know the names of close friends and family.


3 year old

Most 3 year olds will be able to follow 2 or 3 step commands and speak in 3 to 4 word sentences. Your child will now be much easier to understand and have a vocabulary of around 200 words. Your child should be inquisitive, asking many questions (why, what, who, where, when) and be able to say her name, age and gender. She may understand place words like “in”, “on” and “under” and be able to name a best friend. Her conversation will begin to become more interactive and two-way.


4 year old

As your child transitions to preschooler her understanding is becoming much more refined : she will begin to understand time words and order words (today, tomorrow, first, next). She will be getting better at following more complex instructions and she should be able to hear and understand speech in a variety of settings. Her pronunciation will be improving but she may still struggle with difficult consonant like sh, th and l. She may begin to name letters and numbers. She may be able to retell events and keep a simple conversation going. Her personality will begin to shine through as she chooses topics of conversation that interest her.

Please note

All children reach their milestones at different rates, so don’t drive yourself crazy comparing your child to others. Children born prematurely or with developmental disorders may reach their milestones later. If you would like further information the CDC has a good summary of all developmental milestones. 

Helping Your Child Develop Communication Skills


Spending quality time with your child is the key to good communication skills. He is like a little sponge at this age, keen to learn and interact with you. He will also love to learn through play and interacting with his peers. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association recommends that parents:

  • Model simple, clear and correct language: baby talk is unnecessary at this age.

  • Take an interest in what he says, repeat it back to him and expand on what he has said.

  • Engage him activities that teach colors, categories, opposites, matching skills and counting.

  • Encourage him to ask questions and ask him questions that require a choice, for example “do you want peas or broccoli?”

  • Teach him new vocabulary, whenever possible and make a game of testing his knowledge.

  • Read lots of books together, look at photo albums, sing songs and nursery rhymes, engage in make believe play and go out for a walk together.


Red flags: When to call your doctor

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests developmental checks at: 24 or 30 months. Children who were premature, low birth weight or have other health problems may be screened more frequently. If you are worried you can request an assessment at any time. As communication is complex you may want to request both an audiology (hearing) and speech and language assessment.

If you think your child is showing unusual signs don’t panic, there may be a very simple reason; every child is different. Signs to report to your doctor include:

  • Problems with feeding or swallowing,

  • Ignores you talking to him and fails to respond to loud noises,

  • Delay in reaching communication milestones,

  • Stutter,

  • Unusual speech pattern,

  • Recurrent ear or throat infections (may be associated with hearing loss),

  • Poor intelligibility for age,

  • Loss of skills previously gained (regression).

It is recommended that you keep a record of your child’s development: if you are concerned it may help reassure you that your child is, in fact, progressing and if the need arises it will provide useful information for your doctor.