Communication milestones for young children: listening

The way children listen and understand sounds changes as they grow, and every child develops at a different rate. A slower rate doesn’t always mean that there are problems with their communication. But understanding what is typical can help you see where your child might need more support.

Mother whispering into the ear of her daughter


Babies can notice and focus on one sound, but easily get distracted. They might move their eyes or turn their heads to look in the direction of sound. They’re interested in exciting sounds, such as animal noises or sounds outside. They enjoy silly sounds and songs.

One to two years old

Very young children will focus on sounds they’re interested in. They can understand single words, or two words together, such as ‘big car or ‘more juice’. They enjoy songs with actions that they can imitate or try.

Two to three years old

At this age children can only focus on one thing at a time. They need an adult’s help to shift their attention to something else. They can listen to short stories, and still enjoy action songs. You can play listening games with them to help develop their skills.

Three to four years old

Your child may still focus on one thing at a time (like playing with cars, then turning to look at you). Children are more able to shift their attention, but may still need help to focus. They can listen to longer stories, and understand when you use longer sentences.

Four to five years old

Your child is developing the ability to carry on what they’re doing while listening to you. If they’re doing something tricky, they may need to focus on it completely.

Five years and up

Your child should be able to sit and listen for longer periods of time, and will enjoy longer stories.

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