Petra Starkova, M.A.

The Worlds Within Our Minds

First aid for when your toddler doesn’t communicate

What can we do?

Posted Jun 24, 2017

People also expect that at this point, they should be able to gradually learn to communicate with their child – to understand what the toddler wants, and on the other hand, they expect the child to understand them.

However, sometimes it doesn’t work, which can make it a very demanding time for parents (and not only them). A child that has trouble communicating always needs something, like any other child – she’s thirsty, hungry, tired, needs a new diaper – but can’t communicate it successfully. That’s why she reacts the only way she can: by crying or screaming. The older a child is, the more diverse and frequent are her needs, so if a three-year-old, otherwise healthy child cannot communicate with success, she becomes upset for most of the time and the whole family can suffer too from her frustration.

What can we do?

1. Use pictures

One of the methods how to help a child communicate what she needs is to use simple images. We show the child several pictures representing what she might need, and she can point at the corresponding image or choose the right card from a table. The pictogram method is also the foundation stone of teaching communication to autistic children. Sometimes parents are worried that pictogram communication might hinder speech development in the child. But that is not a risk. On the contrary – as soon as the child learns that she can satisfy her needs by communicating, her motivation increases and she may attempt more complex forms of communication where pictures may not suffice.

Pixabay
Source: Pixabay

2. Find out what she understands

Parents of children who don’t communicate are often concerned whether the child’s hearing is not impaired and whether she can understand them correctly at all. We can make tentative attempts to find out by several means. The most basic one of them is giving the child simple tasks, such as to point at something in an image, or hand you a certain thing. The child’s word power can be estimated e.g. using a mobile app Bitsboard. It shows the child two or more images and the child needs to pick the one whose name the app is saying.

Pixabay
Source: Pixabay

3. Baby sign language

Sign language for infants and toddlers is another option that can be relatively easily tried to bridge communication gaps. It’s a system of signs stemming from natural gestures that are used by children spontaneously. It’s designed to communicate with babies from six months of age, and most children can understand and use a few signs before they’re one year old. For a start, up to three signs can suffice. Typically, just like in the pictogram method, we start with needs that can be fulfilled quickly and that are also most urgent for the child: food, drink, potty or diaper… Then we can build upon it e.g. with the child’s preferred activities or toys.

No matter which one of the methods you try to use first, it’s essential not to overlook your child’s frustration from unsuccessful communication and to try together to find means that suit her best – and spend time with your child talking, reading aloud, mimicking sounds, singing… These small steps can go a long way.