Here’s how to make your words count
Toddlers are in the exciting stage between babyhood and starting preschool. This interesting and rapidly-changing time can befuddle parents. What should we say to our toddlers, besides our constant reminder that we love them to the moon and back and perpetual cries for them to stop certain behaviors?
What we say to our toddlers, our bundles of joy who are now between one and three-years-old, matters. Once a child hits the beginning of their toddler years, their language develops rapidly, according to The Mayo Clinic.
By the time infants reach their first birthday, they might be “copying speech sounds,” saying a few basic words, “understand simple commands,” as well as “turn and look toward sounds.” Six months later, when our kids are eighteen-months-old, they have likely developed rapidly to “know names of people, objects, and body parts,” “follow simple commands that are given with gestures,” and, here’s the kicker—“say as many as 10 words.” By the time the child turns two-years-old, they might be using “simple phrases,” ask questions that include one or two words, and “speak about 50 or more words.”
Because you and your tot will be spending a whole lot of time communicating with one another, it’s important that your words count. We’ve got you covered with six go-to phrases for real-life parent and toddler situations, with some great tips from Dr. Candice Jones, a board-certified pediatrician practicing in Orlando, Florida.
“You’re so ____.”
Kids hear a lot of generic compliments throughout their lives, but this doesn’t expand their vocab or teach them exactly how amazing they are. Though “good job” and “nice try” are common, take your compliment game up a notch. If your toddler paints a picture or builds a block tower, and they are anxious to show you and gain feedback, be specific. Stating, “I love the blue building with the green windows! You’re so creative” means more and teaches more than a half-hearted, “Wow! Cool!”
“Please stop, because…”
If your toddler is making a poor choice, of course you want to stop the behavior, especially if it’s dangerous to themselves or someone else. However, it’s ok to offer a short explanation why. You’re treating your child as the human they are, not a robot who should obey your every command without an understanding as to why, especially as they get older. For example, “Please don’t hit your brother. Hitting hurts.” Use short phrases and specific, toddler-understandable language. Dr. Jones shares that giving your child a reason to stop a behavior can help them make better choices in the future.
“I understand you feel…”
When your child makes a poor choice, remember that’s it’s more than likely a typical toddler behavior. Tantrums, physical responses (throwing, hitting, etc.), and big emotions that result in zero-to-sixty emotional reactions are very normal. Offer empathy for their feelings, first and foremost, even if your child was in the wrong. Empathy goes a long way in building a connection with your child so that they’re best able to then receive whatever correction is necessary. Your child will likely not develop empathy until they are closer to four, but you can model it now. Plus, correction is more effective when you offer it with “a spoonful of connection,” Dr. Jones shares.
“You have a choice.”
Once children have some vocabulary down, it’s time to start giving them options. This doesn’t mean your home becomes a toddler free-for-all. Instead, offer your kiddo reasonable choices that empower them and encourage problem solving skills. For example, ask your toddler if they’d like to wear their tennis shoes or rain boots. This offers you the opportunity to talk about the weather. When they make their choice, an affirmation such as, “Rain boots? Smart choice, because today, it’s raining!” Dr. Jones shares that offering child choices “satisfies the need for some independence.”
“Let’s play together!”
It’s one thing to tell kids of any age any sort of directions, but it’s another to practice it. Role play (language practice) with your toddler. Use dolls, action figures, or even family members to act out a familiar scenario—and then act out the wrong way (with sad faces) and then the right way (happy faces, high-fives, etc.). When you’re done, tell your child, “We worked together to solve a problem! Yay!” Always do this when your child is regulated; don’t try to teach a lesson in the heat of the moment.
“Let’s sing your special song!”
One of my kid’s favorite activities when they were little was when I would make up songs using their names. Not only did we do this to help them learn to spell their names, but also to tell imaginative or silly stories. These songs helped our children feel special. After all, there were four of them. It also increased their vocabulary and served as an affirmation. Encourage your toddler to make up their own songs, as well. Plus, Dr. Jones says that teaching children through song helps parents work smarter, not harder.
All of these are ways to tell your toddler that you love them, but in less common, but perhaps equally as meaningful, ways. A present, responsive parent is a loving parent. By showing up for your one, two, and three-year-old, you’re establishing an expectation that you’ll always be there for them, through thick and thin.