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My preschooler communicates by repeating what others say!
Q: I am concerned about my almost 4-year-old son’s speech patterns. He has a great memory and communicates mostly by repeating what he has heard other people say. He refers to himself by his first name because we do. His main pastime is reciting books and preschool TV shows that he has memorized. I can see that he wants to communicate and play with others better, but he just doesn’t have the words. How do I help him?
A: It doesn’t sound as though he has a serious problem, but you will want to be observant as his language development progresses. Let me also reassure you that this kind of speech pattern is far more common in boys than in girls. For some reason, little girls seem to have an easier time mastering language. (When they get older, you see the same discrepancy in terms of reading problems.)

It is not at all uncommon for 3-year-olds to refer to themselves using their names. Likewise, they often call themselves “you” instead of “I.” After all, how many times a day do they hear things like, “Does Johnny want some milk now?” Or “Do you want some milk?” It is not difficult to get the idea that the one asked the question is expected to answer with the same word.

As for what you should do, continue all the things we know help children develop language skills—talk to him, listen to him and respond to what he says without correcting him, help him learn songs and word games and read to him. Also, limit his TV time.

It is important that hearing and using words should be pleasurable for him and not stressful. If talking increases anxiety in a child his age, that is when we really get speech and language problems. As for play with other children, that is always a good idea. But try to find playmates who will not be too demanding or critical about his speech (“Why do you talk like that?”). Without meaning to, young children can sometimes seem cruel to one another.

Within 5 or 6 months, these speech patterns should have disappeared. Just be patient and keep talking to him.