MomPower Episode 2: Understanding Toddlerese

By:Jessica Azar
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Just when you think you’ve gotten the hang of Cryanese, get ready for your little one to introduce you to the exasperating world of Toddlerese. In addition to the crying, there are now hand gestures, beginning words and various glares thrown into the mix. On one hand, it’s a good thing, because it gives you more clues to figure out what they want, but on the other hand, it can make things even more complicated. Kind of like someone speaking a foreign language and giving you baseball signs at the same time. Good Luck understanding that! Pair this with their rapidly expanding interests and new boundaries and a low frustration level… Recipe for screaming (them) and exhaustion (You). Hopefully the tactics in this post will help you survive the Toddlerese phase in your child’s life.

It’s difficult, but we as Moms begin to connect the dots of their demands with their signals. We learn that “Em Ade” means Lemonade… And that “Guh” means cup. We see that grabbing their ears can indicate ear pain… Their way of saying this HURTs. Fix it. When you finally do begin to understand their fledgling words and hand signals, you begin to think “Great! Now finally other people can understand him/her and someone else can help him/her if she needs it.”… And you would be wrong. I quickly found out that I was the only one who could understand my kid’s Toddlerese… Even though I felt like he had made a ton of progress and was much more understandable, I was still the only one for the most part that could figure out what he meant. My son Sundanceat age 2 could hilariously recite the “Jackwagon” Geico commercial…
So I made a YouTube video of it to show friends… And no one else could understand what he was saying. Whomppp whompppp whommmmmmp. Bummer.

And I figured out that I couldn’t understand children belonging to other parents. Other toddlers still basically sounded like this to me:
Toddlers when they’re happy are a lot like Farmer Fran here… And a lot of times, if I have no clue what a toddler is saying, whether it be mine or someone else’s, I will give them an errand or task, just like Coach Klein does here…. I’ll look at LLL after she’s tried to convey something to me several times in a row, and after still not understanding her, I’ll say “Where’s your Hello Kitty (or Blankie or Cup or whatever else I can think of)?!” And she’ll usually run away to go retrieve it… And when she comes back to show me whatever I asked her to find, I praise her and her earlier message or request has been forgotten… At least for a time. Or until she asks again in another setting, when there will hopefully be more contextual clues to steer you in the right direction in deciphering their pleas.

That brings me to another point… Contextual Clues are your friend! I always look at the clock to see if it’s close to feeding time for the Herd at our zoo… If it’s close to nap time… If there’s something she can’t reach that she might want… And so on. Whatever emotion she’s showing can help with this as well… If she’s angry and pointing to wherever her siblings/other kids are playing, I can almost get that someone either took something from her, won’t give her something etcetera. If she’s crying and pointing in their direction, the situation has probably either come to blows or she’s tired. If another Herdmember is around, I will sometimes ask them to translate… Sometimes they can figure out what she wants before I can)… But sometimes they use this KidPower to get something THEY want. Use your discretion here. Ignoring their demands outright is a bad idea… Because that either leads to a temper tantrum or in some cases, (such as my Butch Cassidy ) can lead to them trying to get whatever they want all by themselves…. I’ve cleaned up more than my share of “I Did It!” Messes.

If Distraction and Contextual Clues aren’t helping me, I offer her a treat… Like a lollipop. She will either forget what she wanted or it buys me time to better assess the situation. Lollipops are like the wild card I reserve for times when I’m at a complete loss. Toddlers are like a ticking Timebomb when they need/want something…. And time is seriously of the essence with tiny humans, because if you don’t somehow diffuse them before they explode, you’re going to spend twice as long trying to get them back to their normal happy selves. Once they explode like that, the possibility of figuring out what they originally wanted is greatly reduced. A lollipop or any distraction is like hitting a temporary reset button on their countdown to meltdown clocks.

Understanding Toddlerese is definitely a MomPower… Ask anyone without kids what a little one is saying… They won’t have a clue. Learning to read this new language of communication is very important to the peace and serenity of your home…. And suggesting words to them to name certain desires or items helps a ton… Soon they will start using those words instead of uhm uhm uhm to indicate they want their “Guh”. Success! This phase is a process that gradually gets better and easier to understand as they move into Preschoolerhood!

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