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Communicating Kids – 3 years plus

By 3 years old we would typically see children showing awareness of and interest in adults and other children. They should be able to understand and follow daily routines and instructions, and be putting words together to ask for things, answer questions and tell people about things.

Social communication

At this age children are often joining in and initiating play with other children. They are using more imaginative play and role play.

Sharing and turn taking can still be tricky, but children should be developing their skills in managing these things (with reduced adult support). They should show increasing attention skills across this year, but still find it hard to concentrate for long periods of time or on more than one thing at a time.



By 3 years old children should be able to understand 2 part instructions such as “put your cup on the table”. They should be progressing to understand longer instructions or information, such as “put the big car in the box”. They should be developing skills in listening to longer stories and be able to answer questions about what they have heard. As well as this, they can start to understand concepts such as colour and size.

Expressing themselves

At this age children may be putting more words together to make longer sentences and linking ideas using “and” and “because”. They might be asking more questions and starting to talk about things in the past and the future, expect grammatical errors like “I eated my cake”.


By 3 years old we expect parents and carers to be able to understand most of what a child is saying (although not absolutely everything).

We expect children to be able to use the earlier sounds (p, b, m, w, n, h) by the age of 3, with many children of this age also using t, d, g and k. The sounds s, f and y may still be tricky but should appear more in a child’s speech as they near 4 years old.

Later developing sounds (r, l, z, v, th, sh, ch and j) might start emerging in a child’s speech from 3, however it is not uncommon children to still be developing these sounds in the first few years of school (up to about 7).

What can adults do?


Speak well at the right level for your child. Join in with your child’s play and talk about what they are saying and doing. Do not ask lots of questions or overload them with information.

Use pictures

If your child finds it hard to remember routines, plans and instructions using pictures can support them.

Give time

Set aside time to talk with your child each day to help with their learning. Give them time to process what you have said, think about their response and say it.

Reduce their frustration

When you cannot understand what they are saying, do not put the blame on your child. Instead, say “I’m sorry mummy’s ears are not working today. Can you tell me again?”. Tell them what you have understood and support them getting their message across, such as “are you telling me something about nursery or home?”.

Avoid correcting your child’s speech and instead remodel (repeat) the word back so they can hear how it should sound, such as “the par”, “yes, the car“.

Make it a game

The more fun it is, the more they want to do it, and the more they do it, the better they get.

  • Active games: play ‘Simon says’ to practise action words. Explore big and little things outside such as jumping in big and little puddles.
  • Transport games: practise listening to instructions such as “put the bus on the road”.
  • Dolls and teddies: play ordering food to practise listening to instructions and using sentences.
  • Listening games: link a sound and an action such as “when you hear a bell, jump up and down” and “when you hear a drum, sit down”. Listening skills are important for speech development and for attention skills.
  • Syllable clapping: put interesting objects or pictures in a bag and pull them out on at a time. Show the object to your child and clap the syllables in the word, such as “boun-cy-ball” and then play with it. This helps children to slow down and break words up into smaller chunks and to store them in their vocabulary more accurately. It is a really important skill for children developing speech and it also helps to support later reading and writing skills.

Make up games to target your child’s speech, language and social communication skills, using things that interest them.

Contact us

For more information please contact the Speech and Language Therapy Service at Flockton House on 0114 226 2333.

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

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