The impact of speech on social and emotional development

Whether its speaking face-to-face or sending emojis over text, people love communicating. The ability to talk to other people is one of the most fundamental skills to both individuals and society at large. Because it plays such a key role in our daily lives, it is normal for parents to worry about a child who seems to have difficulty communicating, so in this blog, we’re going to look at how speech impacts our social and emotional development.


It can be easy to miss speech and language problems in a very young child, but it is also possible to spot potential problems if you know what to look for. Between 6 & 18 months, your child should be intentionally interacting with others, gaining a greater understanding of words (like “bottle”, or “mama”), and starting to say their first few words. If this is not the case, it may be a sign that the child has a condition such as autism or a Developmental Language Disorder.

A Developmental Language Disorder is one that will be present from birth, and has no physical cause. Whatever the cause, an inability to communicate with others can cause a child to become withdrawn. Humans are social creatures, but social interaction is particularly important during our formative years as they teach us how to interact with others. Without social interaction, we cannot learn how to play nicely, compromise, forgive, stand up for ourselves, or exchange ideas. The longer a child’s condition remains untreated, the harder it will be for them to learn these valuable lessons.


Emotions are an extremely complex concept, and so language is extremely useful in helping us navigate through them. When a child’s understanding of speech and language is limited, it limits their ability not only to express their emotions to others, but also to comprehend them internally.

The nature of the speech problem will generally determine which challenges the child will face. For example, a child who has a stutter knows exactly what they want to say, but frequently find themselves unable to get the words out. This may lead to teasing, which could cause the child to become shy, withdrawn and quiet. A child who has a Developmental Language Disorder, on the other hand, may have an idea in their head that they are unable to put into words, and may have trouble understanding what other people are trying to say. This can be quite frustrating, and can cause the child to become short-tempered, lash out, and withdraw from others.


At the end of the 20th Century, developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky theorised that we all develop our inner-voice when we play as children. It is through this voice that we learn about self-regulation, such as going to the bathroom on time and not shouting at people. As we observe others, whether our parents or other children, we learn not only words, but thought processes as well. This theory highlights the importance of addressing any issues early, as failure to do so could leave a child with limited language and self-regulation skills. Unfortunately, these two problems feed into each other, as a child who gets frustrated easily or has limited communication abilities is more likely to stay away from other kids, making it harder for them to learn new words, or how to interact with others.

All of this can sound quite scary when you’re thinking about your child, but there are lots of different treatments for all sorts of speech & language problems, many of which can be done at home. What matters is addressing the issue early on. If you think your child has a speech or language issue, please read our blog When Should My Child See a Speech Therapist?


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