Last weekend, we had the truck loaded up with my toddler, my husband, my sister-in-law, and myself. My sister-in-law was sitting between my toddlers’ car seats in the backseat, and my 3 year old was attempting to have a conversation with her. She just kept repeating “what.” I could tell she was getting frustrated, but I could understand everything my son was saying.
I’m around kids all day. The majority of my conversations are with children who need a stool to wash their hands. But somehow, I can always understand what they are trying to say. The majority of my friends and family have to ask my kids a million times to repeat themselves, or they just ask me to interpret. I know that sometimes they can be incoherent, but my son speaks fairly well for his age. My daughter is just starting to form phrases, so she’s a little harder to understand.
What drives me mad is the way I watch people talk with my son. They either use baby talk, which is annoying and bad for development, or they brush him off with “that’s cool, buddy.” What if it’s not cool? What if he’s trying to tell you he needs something or is trying to tell you a story. Kids need more attention in terms of conversation. Speaking to them helps them learn, and listening is just as important.
In the beginning, I caught myself getting frustrated and repeatedly asking “what” and raising my voice each time. I felt awful about it. So, I decided to start getting down on his level and really learning the ins and outs of his word use. It took time, but now, the only time I don’t fully understand him is when he’s crying and talking at the same time.
To be fair, we talk about toddlers like they are their own species, so we forget they are just tiny humans that can’t always express what’s going on with them. When I’m frustrated, I try to remember the best way to go about talking to my kids.
- Speak Normally. I can not stand baby talk. My mother still uses baby talk with my nephews who are in elementary school. I remind her all the time to snap out of it and she laughs and speaks normally then. It’s important to speak clearly and in sentences to kids. They need to learn how to form phrases, and we are the best example.
- Break it Down. I use sentences with my toddlers, but I slow down my pace and use simpler structure. I pause after each phrase and make sure they hear what I say. Explanations take a little bit longer but not by much. The mutal understanding is worth it in the end.
- Stop Asking What. Instead of repeatedly asking “what” over and over try a few different phrases like “speak a little slower,” “can you show me what you need,” or “can you say it again for me?” when you keep repeating “what,” it can get discouraging to them. Try to find a positive way to ask what they are saying.
- Offer Options. It’s always a good idea to offer options or choices whatever the situation may be. If a toddler is asking for something and you don’t understand, ask them what they need and offer examples. My son usually wants 3 things in a vehicle: toys, food, or a drink. So I offer options if he’s asking for something and usually one of the options is what he wants. In regular conversation, I ask if he meant this or if he meant that and use different choices. It helps us to figure out what he was talking about. I try not to give more than two options, so it’s easier for him to decide. If those options don’t work, we move on to others.
Figuring out toddler talk isn’t always the fastest task, but being able to understand and communicate is really important. I try to explain this to people who brush my kids off when they don’t understand what they say. It is a big part of their learning experience. Being able to communicate and express their wants and needs helps them to learn lessons and grow.