Communication and Your 4- to 5-year-old
May 24, 2004, KidsHealth.org

Communicating with a child, from infancy onward, is one of the most pleasurable and rewarding experiences for both parent and child. Children learn by absorbing information through daily interactions and experiences with other children, adults, and the world. And between the ages of 4 and 5, many children enter preschool or kindergarten programs, making language competency necessary for learning in the classroom.

How Should I Communicate With My Child?
The more interactive conversation and play a child is involved in, the more a child learns. Reading books, singing, playing word games, and simply talking to your child will increase his vocabulary while providing increased opportunities to develop listening skills. Here are a few suggestions to improve your child's communication skills:
o Help your child relate to books by selecting stories that mirror families like yours or people from your cultural or ethnic group.
o Keep books, magazines, and other reading material where your child is able to reach them without help.
o Help your child create his own "This Is Me" or "This Is Our Family" album with photographs or mementos.
o Talk with your child about books or TV programs and videos that you watch together.

Typical Vocabulary and Communication Patterns
As children gain mastery over language skills, they become more sophisticated in their conversational abilities. A child of 4 to 5 years can follow complex directions and enthusiastically talks about things that happen to him. He can make up stories, listen attentively to stories, and retell stories himself.

At this age, children usually are able to understand that letters and numbers are symbols of real things and ideas, and that they can be used to tell stories and offer information.

Sentence structures now incorporate up to eight words, and vocabulary is between 1,000 and 2,000 words. Most children this age should have intelligible speech, although there may be some developmental sound errors and stuttering, particularly among boys.

Preschoolers generally are able to make comments and requests and give directions. They should know the names and gender of family members and other personal information. They often play with words and make up silly words and stories.

What Should I Do if I Suspect a Problem?
If you suspect that your child has a problem with hearing, language acquisition, or speech clarity, call your child's doctor. A hearing test may be one of the first steps to determine if your child has a hearing problem. If the doctor suspects a specific communication deficit or delay, a referral for a speech-language evaluation may be recommended. If your child also appears to be delayed in other areas of development, he may be referred to a developmental pediatrician or psychologist.

A speech-language pathologist (an expert who evaluates and treats speech and language disorders) may recommend direct therapy or preschool special education services or make a referral to an audiologist (hearing specialist), developmental pediatrician, or psychologist.

Typical Communication Problems
Communication problems among children in this age group include:
o hearing difficulties
o problems following complex directions
o difficulty with conversational interaction
o poor vocabulary acquisition
o difficulty learning preschool concepts, such as colors and counting
stuttering
o difficulties with grammar and syntax
o unclear speech

Some children will outgrow these problems. For others, more intensive therapy may be needed. Medical professionals, such as speech pathologists, therapists, or your child's doctor, can help your child overcome these communication problems.