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2 to 5 years: how to help your child's communication

Talking, exploring and playing with your child will help their speech, language and communication skills.

Watch videos from the HSE on helping your child’s communication

Talk to your child regularly

Talk to your child about everyday activities and routines. For example, “after we visit Granny, we will go to the shops”.

Use short, clear sentences. This will help your child understand.

Watch out for signs your child does not know the words to use. They might use words such as “that”, “it” or “thing” instead. Teach them the word that they need. For example, “oh the remote. I need the remote to turn off the TV”.

Spend time with them

Put aside 5 to 10 minutes each day of special time with your child.

Use this time to play. Follow their lead in what they want to play. This is a great way to become familiar with their language skills.

Watch a video on following your child’s lead in play

Limit background noise

Turn off the TV or radio when you're playing or talking with your child.

Too much background noise is difficult for young children to filter out. When it is quiet, it is easier for them to focus on your words.

Build on their language

Help your child to use longer sentences by building on the words and sentences they use.

Repeat their words and add some more. If your child says “look at the tiger”, respond “look at the stripy tiger. I wonder what he likes to eat.”

Watch a video on building on your toddler’s sounds and words

Use comments, not questions

Show interest in what your child is doing by making comments. Do this instead of asking questions. Comments encourage longer answers.

For example, instead of asking “Did you go swimming”, you could comment “you went to the swimming pool with your Granny. I wonder what happened at the swimming pool!”

Watch a video on turning questions into comments

Speech or sound errors

It is normal for young children to make errors with their sounds.

You can help by showing them the correct sound when you chat with them. This is called recasting.

Repeat your child’s words with the correct sounds when they make speech sound errors.

Watch a video on recasting

Grammar errors

Young children often make mistakes with grammar. This is normal.

Use your comments to model correct grammar for your child. For example, if your child says, “the boy falled off the wall”, you could respond “yeah the boy fell off the wall. He fell onto the grass.”

Give instruction using their name

Say your child’s name and wait for them to look at you before giving them an instruction.

This encourages them to listen and tune to what you are saying. It gives them a much better chance of understanding all of your words. For example, “Sean, get your shoes and a hat!”

Stay calm

Young children experience lots of big emotions and will need your help to manage them. Stay calm when they are challenging.

Using a calm voice and slow pace will help them become calm faster. Use simple words and sentences to describe their feelings. This will help them to gradually understand and talk about their feelings.

Name your own emotions so that they become familiar with the words used to name them. It also shows your child that adults feel a range of emotions too.

For example, “I was a little annoyed when I spilled my glass of water…but I know it is not a big deal, so I cleaned it up. Now, I feel ok.”

Toddler temper tantrums

Activities to try

Ideas to help your toddler's communication include:

Pretend play

Pretend play gives lots of opportunities to use action words and describing words. For example, build, heavy or strong.

Use items from around the house as props. For example, cushions could become boats or a duvet could be a tent for camping. Let your child use their imagination to guide the play.

Word games

Word games are great for demonstrating words and sounds.

Games you could try include:

  • Name as many things as you can from a category you pick. For example, animals or things in the room.
  • Make up a story together.
  • Play i-spy with describing words instead of letters. “I spy something that is fluffy”; “I spy something that is large and heavy”. This is easier for young children.

Start with a word and find words that rhyme with it.

Instruction games

Instruction games help your child to understand and follow simple instructions.

Some ideas for instruction games include:

Wait for go

Give an instruction with more than one part. But tell your child that they must wait for the word ‘Go’. For example, “touch your toes, then jump as high as you can…Go.”

Obstacle course

This game is a great way to use words that help describe the position of things. For example, in, on and under.

Set up an instruction obstacle course and take turns giving instructions. For example, “go under the blanket, jump over the cushion, and stand on the mat.”

Your child might need a little help at first. Break the instruction into smaller chunks that they complete one at a time. This can help your child to later understand a longer instruction.


Turn chores and tasks into a game. For example, making piles when sorting the washing.


Young children love books with lots of pictures and simple stories. Talk about the story and what you think might happen next.

Sometimes you might just look at and talk about the pictures. Books provide lots of opportunities for your child to hear new words.

Watch a video on how reading books helps your child’s communication skills

Sorting games

Use this game to help with concepts that your child is learning, such as soft and not soft.

Fill a box full of items from 2 or 3 different categories. For example, animals, food, cutlery or clothes.

Work together to sort them into categories.

Memory game

Gather a range of items from around the house. Put them on the floor or table. Name and talk about each item together. For example, “the yellow car” or “the soft squishy ball”.

Then ask the child to close their eyes. Remove one item. Ask them if they can tell which item is missing.

Watch a video with tips for children who find talking difficult in some situations

Limit screen time

Screens can be smartphones, gaming devices, tablets, computers and televisions. Try to limit screen time.

Watching too much on screens at an early age can have a negative impact on language development, physical development and sleep.

If you do give your child some screen time, it’s best to show them something that involves interaction with your child. For example, chatting about a spot-the-difference game on a tablet or talking about a show together.

Screen time and young children

Watch a video on how to make the most of screen-time with your child


It is up to you to decide when is the right time for your child to stop using a soother. But long term use of a soother can lead to difficulties with your child’s teeth and speech development.

Around age 2 is a good time to wean them off their soother, if they are still using one. It is generally best to take a gradual approach.

Give them something to replace the soother, such as a nightlight, teddy, or blanket.

If your child is repeating sounds or words

It is very common to hear young children repeating sounds in words or whole words such as “m m m m mammy can I have juice” or “I I I I I I want that”.

Your child is learning so much language at this age. It can take time for them to be able to use their new words in sentences without pausing and repeating some words.

To help them you can:

  • show interest in what they have said and not how they have said it
  • wait for them to finish their sentence, even if it takes a little longer than expected
  • speak slowly, ask fewer questions and use more comments
  • play with them and give them your complete attention, with no interruptions
  • keep eye contact and let them know that they have lots of time to finish
  • reduce distractions, for example turn off the TV and radio and put down your phone
  • tell them it is OK to be upset or annoyed if your child has these emotions

Helping a child who stammers (Video)

Speak your native language

Talk to your child in the language you are most comfortable with.

This will

  • support their understanding and talking
  • give them the skills to learn other languages more easily, including. English

You and your partner may use different languages at home. But children can adapt to different languages quickly.

Page last reviewed: 3 August 2023
Next review due: 3 August 2026