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What Does a Toddler Want Most?

After food and sleep, what a toddler wants most is to be understood. After centuries of believing that infants were born as blank slates, developmental psychologists have discovered, with the help of brain scans, that infant’s brains are actively seeking attention to communicate sophisticated thoughts to meaningful adults. They just need someone to give them the words. Months-old babies can say “more,” “gone,” “uh-oh,” and “what’s that?” Parents, who are listening for words like “Mama,” don’t hear “gone.”

Describe and name what your toddler is doing and notice how much he smiles, points and understands. If you need help thinking of conversations to have, there are twelve parent-toddler conversation starters in our book, The Gift of Words: How Do Children Learn to Talk? There are also activities supporting the book at and Or go to our partner Play Smart Literacy at to share literacy games, play videos and make contact with play coaches.


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