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Pre-Schoolers (2 ½ - 4 years)

From around two years old, your child will start to become more and more interested in other people and experiences. They are learning about the world around them and their place in it.

This is often a time when children are joining in more with people outside of immediate family - perhaps going to nursery or toddler groups. They are learning skills that will get them ready for school. School readiness means a child has the communication, practical and social skills to enjoy and get the most out of their education.

The communication skills they learn now will mean they are able to cope with these new experiences more easily. By the time your child starts school it will be easier for them if they can;

  • Listen and follow instructions and rules
  • Ask for what they need and be understood by others
  • Talk about their own feelings and the feelings of others.
  • Mealtimes can be an excellent learning experience for children. They can learn to sit still, take turns and listen to others, as well as talk about their day.

    Try and eat together as often as you can. Turn off the TV and make mealtimes a phone and tablet free zone for the whole family.

    Encourage your child to eat foods with lots of different textures. Include foods that have crunch and need chewing- like fruit and vegetables. This helps exercise their facial muscles.

  • By now your child should be drinking from an ordinary cup – not a beaker or a bottle – this is important because;

    • It develops muscles and movement in the face, mouth and soft palate needed for clear speech and language development.
    • They learn to ‘sip’ not just ‘suck’.
    • An open cup is better for their teeth and gums too.

    It can be messy to begin with but keep going. Your child will quickly learn how to drink from and put down their cup without spilling. These are important motor skills. 

  • Some children may have struggled to get rid of their dummy / bottle at a year of age as recommended. If your child is still using dummies or bottles it is important to help them stop using them. This will help develop clear speech. It will also help keep teeth and gums healthy.

    Switching from a bottle to a cup

    • Choose an open cup or a free-flow cup with a lid and
      without a valve. This will help your child learn to sip rather than suck, this is better for their teeth. By about 12 months of age, most infants have the coordination and ability to hold a cup and drink from it.
    • If you don’t want to just stop feeding from the bottles
      suddenly, start by reducing them gradually from the
      feeding schedule, starting at mealtimes.
    • If your child usually drinks three bottles each day, choose a good time for you and your baby, perhaps when you’re not in a rush or under pressure, and replace that bottle with milk in a cup.
    • The bedtime bottle tends to be a part of the bedtime
      routine and is the one that most provides  comfort. Instead of the bottle, try offering a cup of milk with your child’s evening snack and continue with the rest of your night-time activities, like a bath, bedtime story and teeth brushing. It might help to give your child a comforting object to cuddle with, like a blanket or a favourite toy.

    Weaning off dummies

    • Prepare your child in advance for what you’re going to
    • Try limiting the time the dummy is used - perhaps only
      at naptime and bedtime. Try and use a different
      comforter such as a teddy, small toy or book.
    • Offer praise, reward with hugs and kisses, positive
      attention and playing – having fun. A star chart or stickers could work with older children.
    • Try not to turn back. No matter how well you
      have prepared your child for this change, it may be hard - keep going!

    *Click Here* here are some more tips on how you might do this.

  • Play is how children learn – time spent playing with your child will improve their speech and communication skills. It will also continue to build the bond they have with you and improve their confidence and self esteem.

    In the pre-school years children love to pretend and imagine when they play – spend time with them and follow their lead.

    They might want to pretend they are people they see everyday – like mummies and daddies or nursery teachers. They might want to be monsters or animals. Use the time to grow the words they know and use. For example when they say ‘I am a monster’ you can say ‘ You are a big, scary monster’.

    Singing with your child helps them understand the rhythm of words and helps with memory. It releases ‘feel good’ hormones for you and your child and is a great way to pass long car journeys or even make tidying up fun!

  • Sharing books together is good for children. It helps with speech development and learning to concentrate. Look at books together – read the words or talk about what you can see – children often like to look at the same book over and over. They like the repetition and learn language effectively this way.

    Try a trip to the library and let them choose which books to borrow, this might introduce a little variety. Don’t be surprised when they return to their old favourite!

    *Click Here* to find your local library.

  • Spending time with other children is valuable for communication development. This could be;

    • at nursery
    • toddler groups
    • with family and friends
    • at your local park.

    In time children learn to share and cooperate with others. They can learn how their actions make others feel. Children do not usually understand sharing until they are 3 or 4 years old – until then they will struggle to see things from others points of view. This takes lots of practice!

  • Firstly remember that each child will develop at their own pace. Spend as much time as you can playing and talking with your child without distractions – even 5 minutes here and there adds up and can make a big difference.

    If your child attends nursery or a registered childminder, talk to them about your worries – they will be able to work with you to build your child’s skills and advise on any next steps needed.

    Try this communication tool - you can identify which stage your child is at and try some of the activities and ideas to support your child's communication development.

    You can also contact our Just One Number team on the details below to talk through your concerns. The team may ask about your child's hearing and vision to be sure this is not getting in the way of their communication skill development.


Who Can Help?

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

If you are 11-19 you can text ChatHealth on 07480 635060 for confidential advice from one of our team.

You can speak to other Norfolk parents and carers by clicking our online community forum below. 


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