Toddler Talk

We all communicate every minute of every day when we are around other people, from the obvious – when we speak – to the way in which we smile, use our eyes, stand, sit, cross our arms, nod or any other non-verbal cues; it is all communication. Women in particular, I think, are conscious about there non-verbal communication, especially in corporate settings. We are constantly told that they way in which we stand, sit, walk or hold ourselves are all constantly judged and are used by others around us to form opinions of us. We are told to mirror those non-verbal cues used by men to come across as more confident and knowledgable. Anyway, my opinions on women’s communication skills compared to men’s are for another time, but I do enjoy contemplating at times how different a business meeting may progress if we all communicated a little more like toddlers. I’m not talking about the unreasonable, throw yourself on the floor and scream type of communication but just the blatent, no hidden agenda, kind of language which means you know exactly where you stand!

My son’s first word was “daddy” (if we discount when he said “hi” at 6 weeks old as not an actual word but just a noise that sounded like a word). His first “sentence” was when he was just over 18 months old and he told my husband to “sit down Daddy” when he got up in a restaurant. Since then (he is now a couple of weeks off two) his language is improving daily and I find it absolutely incredible. The moment he said “love you” at bedtime resulted in me yelling downstairs to my husband with such urgency that he actually thought there was a real emergency! And the most recent comment which made my heart melt was him saying “bless you mummy” when I sneezed. There is no denying the amount of pride I have every time he says something new – I love it. We have also had a couple of mishaps.. the first of which was a few months ago when Isaac said “s**t”.. I knew he said the word, but it was originally in place of “sit”, so he would stand up by the sofa put his arms up and say it – he just wanted putting on the sofa to sit. It was funny but fine, I couldn’t knock his efforts. But.. he also had the ability to use it in another context too. One day he dropped his toy and it rolled under the sofa. He said “oh s**t” and bent down to pick it up. It was hilarious, I can’t deny it. The responsible mum inside me knew that I had to hide my laughter and completely ignore what had happened, at least that was my instinctive decision as to what a “responsible parent” would do in the moment, but there was a bubble of laughter that escaped when my husband and I looked at each other and realised what he had said. Fortunately he hasn’t said it since.

Isaac’s communication didn’t start with that first word though. It started the moment he was born. Those first few weeks were full of crying, but also, squeezing my finger, turning his head towards me and sticking out his tongue when he wanted feeding – all communication, even if not verbal, and parents quickly learn how to interpret this new language. He then moved on to gurgling, smiling and giggling as well as still crying (a lot). We then got to the stage when other people would start saying that babies had different cries for their different needs – and their parents would be able to tell which cry meant what. At the time I totally agreed, but I can hand on heart say I still have no idea whether Isaac had different cries – the only difference I could tell was the volume and the length of time between the cry starting and my husband or me being able to identify and fix the problem (nine times out of ten milk fixed it!).

My mum has told me several times that I didn’t start speaking until I was about 3. I could never really put that into context; I mean, it sounds late, but I didn’t really have any idea if that was a problem or not. I kind of then assumed Isaac may start speaking late and was preparing myself for that. Isaac being able to speak was one of the developmental milestones I was most looking forward to – surely it fixed a lot of issues? If he could speak, I could ask him what was wrong and he could respond. If he was crying, he could tell me why. If he was hurt or poorly he could tell me what hurt, and if he had a complete meltdown we could have a conversation and fix it together. For anybody that has a child over the age of 2, I know you are laughing at me by this point. My complete naivety as to the power of speaking to a toddler is overwhelming, I know. I know that now. I know that after the last couple of months of trying to balance my expectations of being able to hold a conversation with Isaac, against the fact that he is a toddler.

As well as learning to speak he still continues to develop his other forms of communication too – his physical movements tell us so much – he shows us his feelings when he runs towards us with a smile on his face, by pushing his plate away during dinner, by taking my hand and pulling me to something he wants me to see or by arching his back if he doesn’t want to go in the pram. He has recently learnt to say sorry and that always comes together with a cuddle when he understands that he has done something that he shouldn’t have done. His strongest form of communication, however, is still to cry – he cries when he is hungry, when he is tired, if he can’t do something for himself, if he wants me to get something for him, when he is frustrated, hurt, upset, scared, he cries if he doesn’t want to go to bed, he cries at the slightest mention of the word nap, he cries when he wants to play with his trains instead of eating his dinner, he cries when he doesn’t want his dinner but I try to take the plate away, he cries if I can’t produce juice or raisins within 3 seconds of him asking for them, he cries if I refuse to let him wear his wellies inside the house, or if I try to put on his wellies outside the house. It is his greatest tool for communication. The problem however, as it has been for the past 2 years, is that it is non-distinctive. Sometimes the source is obvious from the situation we are in and can be fixed, other times, I am completely in the dark. Or, I know what the problem is but I don’t have the tools to solve it.

The reason why this is a greater frustration for me now than it used to be, say 4 months ago, is my expectations have shifted. I now know he can use his words, it’s one of my most used phrases at the moment.. “Isaac, use your words..” He can tell me if he’s hungry or thirsty, or if he doesn’t want to do something, he sometimes even tells me if he wants to go to bed, so I know he can use his words. But he also has a million and one things going on inside his head at any point and sometimes telling me what is wrong just isn’t his priority or he doesn’t have the skills to do it. Sometimes, maybe he just doesn’t know what is wrong either. Other times, he actively chooses to ignore me. The most common of these is when he is watching television or playing with his train set and I will call his name over and over and he will just sit and completely ignore me like I am saying nothing. It is incredibly frustrating but there is nothing I can do other than turn the television off or pick him up away from his trains (cue a potential screaming fit which, when weighed up against whatever I wanted to tell him / ask him, is not worth it, so I just resign myself to the fact I am being ignored!)

I absolutely love having our little conversations and the interaction that we can now have as a result of Isaac learning new words. His most used form of communication, however, is still to cry / scream / throw a tantrum, and I have no doubt that that will continue for many years to come. I am trying to shift my expectations in terms of what he can and cannot tell me whilst at the same time starting to learn the lesson that as a parent I need to focus as much on the non-verbal communication as I do on the talking!

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