6 Tips to Help Understand Your Toddler’s Talk

Mom playing with her baby

Conversing with your tiny humans can be awkward, redundant, and frustrating. Sometimes it seems like they speak another language. If you have a toddler, they may be learning how to talk, which means it is your job to decipher their lingo and attend to their demands. If you have an older child, you’ll find yourself answering questions that may or may not have an answer such as “why is the water wet?” (True story). The last thing any parent wants is that epic, mid-Target, meltdown while shopping all because you picked up the cheddar goldfish instead of the pretzel goldfish.

So, what can we do to communicate more efficiently with our mouthy munchkins? Here are 5 tips to help break through the tiny versus big human communication barrier.

Tip 1: Show Me

A lot of times simply asking your child to “show you” what they’re asking for or talking about will lead you to the quick answer. Kids are able to understand before they’re able to talk, so if they can show you what they want or gesture as to what they’re asking you, you’ll find communication is significantly smoother.

Tip 2: The Reflect & Deflect Technique

When your babbling babe asks a question that you are unsure how to answer, respond with: “Wow, what a great question! {insert applicable question that you’ll send right back their way, example: Why do you think the water is wet?}” Now, proceed with caution because there is a chance it will back fire resulting in frustration. If that happens, quickly diffuse said fire by saying “I LOVE your curiosity but mommy actually doesn’t know how to answer your question. What other questions do you have?” And continue the conversation… did you catch the deflection there? Kids’ minds and curiosity are all over the place and although exhausting, this can also be a beautiful thing that we can use to our advantage as somewhat of a distraction technique when communicating. Might I also suggest this technique when asked questions that you’re well aware of the answer to but don’t want to answer, you know what I’m talking about those “where do babies come from?” or “Is Santa real?” types of conversations.

Tip 3: Sign Language

I cannot stress it enough just how life-changing a few simple signs can be. Google them and use them in your home. My three-year old son is a great communicator and speaks very well but we still use simple signs when appropriate. Hell, even if you’re not much into learning actual sign language, make up some signs and work with your babe to learn them. Communicating with your hands and gestures is simple, fun, and is much easier to learn than vocal speaking. Oh, and don’t listen to the friend who claims that teaching signs will delay language-research shows just the opposite! Through finding and creating other ways to communicate you eliminate frustrations and make communication a positive rather than stressful experience! Trust me, you’ll thank me for this one.

Tip 4: Repeat Exactly What I Say

If your child says “yedo” and you’re not sure what they are trying to communicate, say “I hear you saying “yedo.” This allows them to hear how they’re sounding because in their little minds, they are saying exactly the right thing and you aren’t interpreting it correctly. If they hear it from you, chances are they’ll alter how they’re pronouncing the word and you may be able to then decipher. Be careful not to sound as if you’re mocking your child because that can be downright degrading. Instead be real with them and say “I’m hearing you say yedo. Is that why you are trying to say?” or, for younger babes, simple repeat the word right back to them with a questionable intonation.

Tip 5: Tell Me More

Such a simple little sentence that can lend to a better understanding. When you’re unsure of what they’re telling you, asking them to “tell you more” doesn’t lead them to believe that you’ve not understood but instead builds their confidence in showing them you want to learn more about what they’re saying. The idea behind this is that you will be able to pick up on their context clues and solve the mystery. Keep encouraging the conversation until you’re able to decipher their words or until the conversation has moved on (see #2!).

Tip 6: Simply Talking

Finally, the last tip, which was featured in our weekly Mom Tip email, exclusive to our subscribers, highlighted the importance of simply talking with your child. Until they’ve fully developed a strong set of language skills, a lot of your communication will be done by playing a guessing game, which is ultimately not fun for anyone, but often times it is necessary. To shorten that game, communicate as much and as frequently as you can with your babe. Talk to them, respond to their “words,” ask them questions even when they’re not able to answer. I frequently overhear a mom picking up her infant son at preschool and every day, without fail, she enthusiastically says to him “So, tell me about your day?” followed by an abundance of additional questions. Although he isn’t able to respond just yet, he is hearing language and his babbles and coos are being positively reinforced. Talk through your daily routines, talk while you are grocery shopping, respond to the unknown gibber jabber with “yea? Tell me more,” and most importantly be a constant source of praise and comfort for all communication attempts.

None of these tips or techniques will work without patience.

Make eye contact and give your child the time to work through their linguistics. Their little munchkin minds are so new and growing and changing every day. Be kind and encourage their communication with a friendly, patient demeanor. Investing the time now, when they’re little, to show them that their thoughts, feelings, and words matter, will pay off in the long run. Cherish the toddler lingo and laugh as you work though this together. They won’t be small for long! Cheers!

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