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If you are a parent of more than one child, at times it may seem like your older child does all the talking for your younger child. Parents may think this means a younger sibling’s language will be slower to develop, however, research tells us this is not the case. Being a later-born child does not cause a language delay. Various research studies show there are differences in the language development of younger and older siblings, but these differences do not indicate delays. Here are some of the differences, in general:

  • Older siblings are sooner to acquire 50 words (considered a language milestone) than younger siblings. That’s not to say that older siblings will always have a greater vocabulary. Research shows that younger children catch up quickly and the difference does not last.
  • Older siblings use more advanced grammar at an earlier age than younger siblings.
  • Younger siblings use more advanced pronouns (like “mine” and “yours”) at an earlier age than older siblings.
  • Younger siblings show more advanced conversational skills than older siblings.
  • Despite subtle differences, younger siblings’ and older siblings’ language development is the same overall.

There are theories as to why first-born and second-born children show differences in their early language development. The differing language environments of earlier-born and later-born children seem to play a role. First-born children may receive more individual attention than second-born children, which can enhance their language development. On the other hand, second-born children can gain valuable language input as they listen to and take part in conversations between their older siblings and parents.

If your younger child is not meeting language milestones on time, don’t assume that birth order is the culprit. Instead, seek out an evaluation by a speech-language pathologist to assess your child’s language and look for any potential problems.

Takeaways

  • Being a later-born child does not cause a language delay.
  • Older siblings use more advanced grammar at an earlier age than younger siblings.
  • Usually, siblings develop language skills the same overall.
  • If your child is not meeting language milestones on time, it may not be because of birth order.

References

  1. Berglund, E., Eriksson, M., Westerlund, M. (2005). Communicative skills in relation to gender, birth order, childcare and socioeconomic status in 18-month-old children. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 46, 6, 485-491.
  2. Hoff-Ginsberg, E. (1998). The relation of birth order and socioeconomic status to children’s language experience and language development. Applied Psycholinguistics19: 603-629.
  3. Oshima-Takane, Y., Goodz, E., Derevensky, J. Birth Order Effects on Early Language Development: Do Secondborn Children Learn from Overheard Speech? Child Development. 67; 2: 621-634.
  4. Tomblin, J. B. The effect of birth order on the occurrence of developmental language impairment. The British Journal of Disorders of Communication. 1990; 25(1):77-84.

Comments

  1. My youngest son talked much later than his older brother. He had no need to talk, big bro did all the talking for him!

    Reply
  2. My youngest daughter started speaking pretty early on and I think a lot of it had to do with her listening to her older sister. I have a friend who has a two year old that hasn’t really started speaking yet though and she thinks its because her older sister does all of the talking for her. Every situation is different and I say trust your gut and get a speech evaluation if you don’t feel your child is meeting language milestones. I had my oldest daughter tested when she was two and am so glad I did. She has made great progress in speech therapy and we have really noticed a difference!

    Reply

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