Communication is a vital piece to the human experience. It is how we relate, understand one another, it’s how we can work with others, tell someone our feelings, cast our vote, instill boundaries, order our favorite coffee, and the list goes on. Therefore, there is no doubt how frustrating it is when your toddler is not speaking at the average age.
But, what if they WERE speaking to you?
As a society, we often lose sight of the building blocks it takes to reach a milestone. We are so focused on the outcome, we forget how it is we got there. Everything takes time and everything has a beginning. So, let us lean into the “beginning” of speaking and how to NOTICE and CELEBRATE these very real and important steps.
Examples of communication: eye contact, facial expressions, whining, grunting, crying, babbling, jargoning, shouting, pointing, nodding, shaking head, tapping your hand, reaching, leading, pushing, signing, leaning, handing objects to you, walking away, shrugging, turning away, unwanted behaviors
The golden rule: you MUST meet your child where they are TODAY. Have you ever been given a task that was so overwhelming, that you just felt like running away or giving up? These are the feelings that arise in children when expected to do or be something that they are not yet. Children are highly intuitive and will pick up on the slightest disappointment in you when they cannot imitate a word you want. This can put a barrier in your relationship with your sweet toddler.
- Be present. Is it realistic that you are playing on the floor with your toddler all day, every day? Absolutely not. When you are with them, try your best to include them in all that you do. Minimize distractions.
- Look at them! Look them in the eye. Even 10 minutes per day of uninterrupted face-to-face interaction has incredible benefits.
- Acknowledge and affirm every communication attempt. When they are turning their head away from a food, saying “Oh, you don’t like that! Okay!” or when they are reaching “You want up!” or “Show me!”
- Before doing everything FOR them, wait until they are communicating to you. This is a great time to offer choices. Have them point to which snack they would like. Your child must start to understand the cause-effect aspect of communicating a want/need: “when I DO something, mom moves and gets it”
- PAUSE PAUSE PAUSE. Often, adults are moving way too fast for children to catch up. There is no room for them to even try and communicate when we fill the silence with noise and actions. MODEL a word for what they desire, PAUSE, while meaningfully looking at them. Within this pause notice their body language. They may try to imitate the word or give a gesture. It all counts! Then give them the item and reinforce “GREAT talking”
- Give your child the words: “Yes! You want milk!”
- Honor their feelings. “I hear you are mad.” or “That is very frustrating.” Remain calm.
Communication is so important and empowering for little ones. Early, effective communication leads to the ability to build meaningful relationships with others, advocating for themselves, confidence, being themselves, allows them to feel respected, responsibility for their choices and actions, and to be present listeners. Once you get the communication piece, the words and phrases will flow. They will feel heard, empowered, and closer to you than ever.