Picture of a female therapist speaking with a mother. Text underneath reads "How to explain communication milestones to parents and caregivers".

How to Explain Communication Milestones to Parents & Caregivers

“How many words should a 2 year old be saying?”, “When do children use their first words?”, “How can I help my child’s language skills?”.
These are questions parents & caregivers often search online, and questions we are regularly asked as Speech and Language Therapists (Speech-Language Pathologists).  Part of our role as SLTs/SLPs is to support parents and caregivers to understand their child’s communication skills, and the typical development of these skills. In this post, you’ll learn my tips for how to explain communication milestones to parents & caregivers, without overwhelming them! 

In the background is a picture of a therapist talking with a mother, sat on a sofa together. The text overlay reads "You want to try avoid overwhelming parents and caregivers with information when explaining communication milestones".

As Speech and Language Therapists, we know a lot about communication development…

As SLTs/SLPs, we know a lot. We know a lot about child development, children’s language skills, language strategies, therapy activities… the list goes on. And when people ask for tips and information, sometimes we want to share it all too. But that can be really overwhelming, especially for parents and caregivers who most likely have a million and one things on their mind already. That is why, when we are talking to parents and caregivers, there are some important things to remember, so we can share the information, without the overwhelm!

6 tips for how to explain communication development milestones to parents & caregivers

Here are my top tips for how to explain communication development milestones to parents and caregivers in your Early Intervention sessions.

  • Keep the language simple. As therapists, we can get so used to using words like “variegated babbling”, “comprehension” and “conjunctions”, that we can forget that not everyone understands these words. So when you are talking to parents & caregivers about their child’s communication skills and milestones, avoid using any long, complicated words. It’ll be less overwhelming that way!
  • Don’t get too hung up on the word count. This might be a bit divisive here, but hear me out. There can be quite a lot of variation between reported numbers for both milestones and averages at each developmental stage. (Trust me, I’ve looked at loads of sources while creating these caregiver-friendly communication development handouts). And a child’s word count is only one piece of information. The word count doesn’t tell us what a child can understand, how functional their communication skills are, or what their play skills are like. So when you’re explaining communication milestones to parents/caregivers, you can give a number (i.e., around 300 words by 3 years old), but explain to them that there may be some variation in this, as every child is different, and there are other skills you’re interested in too, not just word count.
  • Explain to parents/caregivers that all children develop at their own individual rates. Children learn skills at slightly different times, and there is a large “average” or “typical” range of development for children. Some children will be on the low average range, and others on the high average range, but all of them would still fall within the average, expected range of development. So as I said in the second point, encourage parents/caregivers not to get too focused on specific numbers, and especially not to compare their child with other children.
  • Be mindful of how the parent/caregiver is feeling. In our therapy sessions, we typically see children who have delayed speech, language, and communication skills. So we know, and the parents/caregivers will know, that the child is not meeting typical developmental milestones. They may be feeling all sorts of things with regard to this- guilt, anger, confusion, sadness, denial, perhaps even relief because they’re finally getting support. Whatever they’re feeling, it’s valid, and we need to be mindful of their feelings when speaking to them.
    So when you’re talking to parents and caregivers about their child’s communication skills and any relevant milestones, they don’t need to hear about what their child “can’t” do, over and over again. Instead, they need to hear what their child is learning now, and what things they can do to support this. So when talking to a parent about their 2-year-old who isn’t yet using 50 words, don’t focus on that too much, and instead focus on the strategies and activities they can do to support their child’s communication skills at home. These handouts are full of easy-to-implement tips and strategies just like that for each age/stage.
  • Reassure the parent/caregiver that they’re not to blame if their child isn’t meeting milestones. This is a big one. Parents and caregivers are crucial in early intervention. A child is with their family much more than they ever would be with you. You need to make it clear to parents/caregivers that they are not the reason their child is not meeting expected milestones. BUT you can explain to them that there are things they can do to help and support their child to develop their skills. This is all the things you’d address in your parent coaching sessions, so you want to get them on the same page as you from the beginning.
  • Make it visual. There can be a lot of information, and it can be hard to remember. It can be useful to provide parents and caregivers with handouts that explain about communication development at each stage of development, that way they have something to refer back to after your session.

Communication development handouts for parents and caregivers

Are you looking for some easy-to-understand communication development handouts to share with parents and caregivers in your Early Intervention sessions?

These caregiver-friendly handouts explain typical communication development from birth to 5 years. All written in clear, simple language. With tips and ideas for supporting children’s skills at each age/stage of development. All of the handouts are ready to print and use straight away, so it won’t take up your prep time.

A picture of a set of parent-friendly communication development handouts arranged on a white background. These handouts are available from The SLT Scrapbook's TpT store.

Grab your copy of these Communication Development Handouts for birth-5 years from my TpT store now.

I hope these tips have given you a good idea for how to explain communication milestones to parents and caregivers, without overwhelming them. Do you have any other tips or ideas that I’ve not mentioned here? Drop a comment below and let’s chat!