There’s no question about it, and there’s no reason to feel guilty for thinking it: communicating with a toddler can be frustrating. To repeat: communicating with a toddler can be frustrating. Every parent feels this frustration at some point, as do many toddlers! Toddlers are aware of what they want, but they often have trouble conveying these desires to care givers. It is important to remember: it’s ok! Toddlers acquire language each and every day as they are exposed to new words, and, with that, their vocabulary grows.
During this time of rapid language development, there are a few tips to support and encourage language, while also reducing frustration for BOTH communicative partners.
Tips for Frustration-Free Communication with Your Toddler:
- Reduce the demand: When a child is trying to explain wants and needs, she may feel pressure to verbalize her choices or may just not feel like talking. That’s ok! If a parent is unable to elicit a verbal response, he or she may try reducing the demand! Accept pointing as an alternative, so long as the child is staying compliant with what is being asked of him.
- Approximate: When a child is attempting to verbalize with a parent, words may often be distorted or syllables may be missing, resulting in immature speech. This is expected in toddlers, but parents can encourage approximation. For example, if a child attempts to say “door,” but instead says “do,” parents can praise their child for trying and respond with “yes, let’s open the door!” Similarly, if a toddler requests “oo na,” parents can reply, “oh, do you want fruit snacks?”
- Model: When children are acquiring expressive language, parents should be modeling appropriate requests and verbal turn-taking throughout the day. During play, parents can express “my turn,” to encourage toddlers to initiate taking turns and labeling actions. Parents can also model requests, for example, “I want more, Molly. Do you want more?” in order to encourage toddlers to imitate.
- Provide choices: Offering choices can help to limit toddler frustration during communication. If choices are finite, toddlers won’t have to search through their growing—but sometimes inadequate—vocabulary to retrieve words. If offered, for example, apples or bananas, toddlers will feel the independence to make the decision that they desire. Simultaneously, parents are able to quickly and efficiently learn what their toddlers want.
- Gesture: It can be frustrating for both parents and toddlers when language demands are placed. If a toddler doesn’t feel like saying “hi” to Uncle Andrew or giving him a hug that day, accept a wave of the hand or a high-five. These gestures are still intentional communication; that is, they still promote social development. Just encourage socialization and more verbalization the next time!
These tips can help to reduce frustration for both parents and toddlers. If parents find that they are unable to understand 50% of what their toddler is trying to communicate, a licensed speech-language pathologist (SLP) can help! This time with your toddlers should be fun, and SLPs can help to make things easier for toddlers to express their wants and needs. Comment below if you have any other frustration-free communication tips!