Understanding how toddlers communicateNovember 8, 2016November 13, 2016Simone

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    What is she trying to say? Why is he crying? What does she need? Most parents of toddlers have asked themselves such questions, often frantically, as they try to figure out how their toddler communicates. How can you tell what they’re trying to say? Here are some tips on understanding toddler language, and how you can improve communication with your toddler.

    Big Feelings

    Toddlers experience some significant emotions as they struggle between their emerging sense of independence and their strong attachment to their parents. Understanding this can help parents know what’s going on in their toddler’s mind. It may help you understand why your toddler clings to you one minute and pushes you away the next.

    If he seems frustrated and angry when you’re dressing him, it might be because he wants to do it himself; but if you leave him alone to do it, he will get frustrated because he can’t! Try to find a balance between helping your toddler and letting him do some things on his own.

    Visual Listeners

    Experts recommend making eye contact with your toddler when you speak. This helps engage her and get her attention. Perhaps a simple word or phrase – “Eyes, please,” or “Look” – repeated along with a gesture would help. You can practice this at calm times. Use your phrase or word and raise your finger in front of your child’s face, then move your finger to point to your eyes. She should follow your finger to your eyes. Smile and let her know that’s the right response to your key words.


    You might consider sign language as well – this visual means of communication has brought welcome relief to some parents and toddlers who have experienced communication frustrations.

    Visual communication works both ways. As you engage your toddler with these gestures and so forth, watch his as well. His arms, eyes, hands, legs, and whole body can communicate. Watch these gestures and harness his tendency to use his body to communicate by trying some of the above.

    Limited Memory

    Toddlers are said to have limited memory, especially for consequences, which is why you may find yourself getting frustrated at correcting behavior over and over. It might relieve you to know that this is not rebellion per se, but it is considered a simple matter of needing repeated experience. Toddlers may need many experiences for them to internalize something and change their behavior.

    Limited Empathy

    Experts point out that toddlers have not really developed the ability to empathize yet. They just don’t seem to make connections between how they feel and how others feel. This may be why the age-old advice to do something to the toddler that you don’t want her to do (biting her for biting you, for instance) tends not to work, and may actually have a negative effect as you model the behavior.

    Hopefully, as you learn the way your toddler’s thought processes work, it will help improve your communication and relationship with one another.