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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.


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