Through an integrated view, in other words, multidisciplinary approach, we understand a child’s development as inter-relation between different developmental domains rather than isolated domains. Therefore, the inter-relationship between linguistic and socio-emotional development should be understood in the same manner. In fact, studies have shown that maltreated children and low birth weight children displayed less effective early language skills.
The primary functions of a child’s communication (non-verbal and verbal) have two main functions.
1. Regulate others
Through communication, a child influences the behaviours, attitudes, and belief of others. e.g., The baby shakes his head and you stop feeding him.
2. Self- regulation
He will use his inner language to reflect, solve problems and anticipate and plan. When a baby understands, “it’s almost done”, he knows the food will come soon and is able to wait for his food without emotional arousal.
The demonstration of these two functions clearly illustrates the interface between socio-emotional development and communication development.
Other characteristics of Child Development
Your baby’s developmental outcomes are influenced by the dynamic relationship between you and your baby. For example, due to his fragile condition, the parents of a premature baby can be excessively cautious and provide poor care. This can lead him to develop irritability and a difficult temperament. The difficulties in taking care of him may cause his parent to avoid him or have limited reciprocal interactive experiences which can result in interfering with communication development.
Moreover, development should be understood as a continuum rather than separate stages. The language development from infancy to early childhood is a gradual process and as time goes by, your child displays different qualities of communication skills. Due to this, it is difficult to pinpoint when your child should demonstrate specific qualities. However, using Prizant and Wetherby’s work as a reference, this framework will show you a snapshot of expected communication and socio-emotional developmental skills based on infancy, toddlerhood, and early childhood. (Table 1)
Infancy (Birth to 12 months of age)
His preverbal communication is the foundation for the emergence of language skills. Through your interpretation of his behaviours, he will start experimenting with intentional communication. This will teach him that his behaviours can affect others, help him regulate himself by transforming his negative emotions to positive ones, and develop attachment. For example, a baby makes sounds. You read his cues and you will change his diaper. He becomes happy with his clean diaper. This initial communication will draw your attention to the same objects or events that he wants to share with you (Joint attention) which is crucial for early language development. Moreover, his developing ability to interpret your cues will make him use you as a reference in stressful circumstances.
Toddlerhood (12 months to 24 months)
At the beginning of toddlerhood, even though new words acquisition is very slow, he will definitely start using symbolic and referential labels. At about 18 months, you can expect a sudden surge in vocabulary growth (e.g., more words, combinations of words). His growth in the consolidation of attachment, autonomy, self-regulation, and the awareness of his own abilities will allow him to communicate with others more often and more orally from a greater distance. He will be able to initiate and maintain communication with you. Referring to himself as I, me, and mine will help him to differentiate him from others and start having his own opinions and preferences. It will introduce to him a new way of being with others. He will also be able to understand the past, present, and future so he can regulate his emotions.
Early Childhood (24 months to 48 months)
At 24 months of age, he will begin to acquire fundamental skills related to organizing words and sentences. The way he creates sentences become more complex and purposeful. For example, he will start using declarative, negative, imperative, and interrogative sentences. With his cognitive development, he will incorporate different concepts like position, size, internal state, time, condition and causality. His sense of self-esteem, self-image and self-efficacy develop; he now begins to portrait himself as a part of a broader social network. His play will become more complex with his development.
You as a Parent
It is important to look at language difficulties in a holistic way based on a clear correlation between communication impairment and emotional difficulties. Moreover, parents who have direct impact on their child’s development, should be emotionally available rather than reject, be angry, and be confused when their child demonstrates language difficulties.