How to Chat with a Toddler Who Doesn’t Talk

How do I Know He Understands Me?

It is possible to have a conversation with a toddler who doesn’t talk, if a mama does just a little more than her share of the talking. Start with say-what-you-see. Babies and toddlers love having a mama who tries to guess what they are thinking even when she is wrong. Not surprisingly, many mamas are very good at guessing when it comes to food, sleep, and a clean diaper. Mamas say what their child is doing and babies understand more than we give them credit for.

One of the first three words (after dada and mama) many children learn to say is “more.” When a mama holds a spoonful of berries in front of her baby’s lips and asks, “more berries?” she is teaching her child the words “more and berries.” When a baby smiles and opens her mouth or frowns and swats away the spoon, she is answering her mother’s question.    

If a mama is quarantined with a toddler, how can she know if he understands what she is saying? If she says, “Go get the truck” and he goes into another room and comes back with a truck, voila! He understood!  That is the test. But teaching and testing are two different things, and it is only fair to teach before the test.


How did he learn the word truck? His mama told him in conversations where she applied the mantra say-what-you-see. The way it works is that when his mama saw him pushing the truck, she said, “You really have fun pushing that truck.” Over the past few weeks she probably had said truck 24 times before he understood, because that’s what it takes for most of us to remember a new word. Children’s brains are prepared to learn new words, but they need a grown up to say the words first. It doesn’t take more time to give a child a big vocabulary. It takes more words. So, chat with toddlers, they will try to understand you.

Manly Decisions

Let’s talk about the men in a baby’s life. Clearly all three babies in this photo are totally interested in the two men. They want to touch them, engage eye to eye and crawl all over them. Too many of our children are not lucky enough to capture a man’s attention. Some of us well-meaning moms prevent our children from being with the men who belong to them. Others of us treat our sons very differently than our daughters. Out of fear that our sons will grow up badly some of us tell our sons, “Don’t say anything. Stand right here next to me and do exactly what I say.” Out of love and fear we prevent our sons from developing a large vocabulary by telling them to be quiet; and prevent our sons from becoming good decision makers by not allowing them to make decisions.


So that our sons will grow up to become responsible and loving fathers, we need to teach them with kind words how to make decisions. Help our boys make choices, ask, “Do you want to play with the blocks or a ball?”  “Do you want strawberry or chocolate ice cream?” ”Do you want to stay inside and play with a toy truck or go outside and swing?” Little words become big words, small decisions lead to better choices later on.

It Doesn’t Take More Time, It Takes More Words

Question 1: Who is your child’s first teacher?

Question 2: What is a teachable moment?


For answer # 1 Look in a mirror

For answer #2 Any moment will do if your child’s first teacher makes the moment teachable.


A baby eating his own toes or a banana can learn about toes and bananas and eating from his mom if she’ll put on her teaching hat.


See how many words you can say to a child eating the banana. This picture gives a lot of teachable word moments:  Look at that yellow banana. It looks delicious. You are slobbering all over it. The banana peel is sliding under the table. Are you still hungry? Do you want more? Are you finished? …. Can you say 50 words to a child about this photo? Next time your child eats something how many can you say?  It doesn’t take more time, just more words.


When a baby eats his own toes, a mom can count the number of toes in his mouth, “You are so hungry, you can eat 2 toes.”


Or mom can count all of his toes: “One toe, two toes, three toes, four, five toes, six toes, seven toes more, eight toes, nine toes, TEN TOES in your mouth or on the floor.”


Mom can tell the poem:

“This little piggy goes to market,

This little piggy stays home,

This little Piggy has roast beef,

This little Piggy has none.

This little piggy goes waaaaaahhhhhh waaaaaahhh waaaaaahhhhhh all the way home.



When a child is interested mom/teachers can grab the teachable moment and give that baby the gift of words.  It doesn’t take more time to make a moment teachable, it takes more words.

What other parents know and do:

Brainbuilding:  a parent empowering website.  This website has videos of parents finding ways to develop their children’s language and interest in the world. It also has daily brain-stimulating activities for parents to try. It explains brainbuilding research for children ages 0-5 years old. Your eyes will light up when you see their children’s eyes light up.   (Click on the link below to view this resource)

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