How to Develop a Communicative Relationship with a Toddler

By Dr. Trevor Holly Cates

The key to communicating with your toddler is developing a good connection early on – listening to them, and understanding how they express themselves will help you nurture their communication skills as they grow. Here are 10 tips to improve these communication skills with your toddler:

  1. Connect with your child – Set aside time throughout each day to have one-on-one, distraction-free interaction with your toddler. This will show them that they are important to you, and since you mean the world to them, it will help improve their overall self-confidence and comfort with communication.
  2. See the positive – Avoid saying “no” all the time and try spinning the dialogue to a more positive statement. For example, instead of “do not pull the cat’s tail,” you could say, “cats like it when you pet them like this,” and then show them what a gentle touch looks like.
  3. Model behavior – Your child watches you carefully, and copies what they hear and see you do, so it is important to model behavior you would want your child to have. When you see your child make a choice that you do not approve of, show your child a more appropriate option through your own actions.
  4. Practice open communication – Toddlers have a limited vocabulary, but they do enjoy interacting with you. You can choose to talk to your child through words alone or you can also include sign language. Even if you do not know sign language, you can create your own gestures, which your child will recognize when you use them regularly. Teaching them various ways to communicate can improve their chances of successfully obtaining what they are requesting, and thus improve their self-confidence in the long run.
  5. Listen – Talking over them, for them or constantly correcting them may cause them to shut down their communication. It can be frustrating for them if they feel they are not important, appreciated or heard. Asking your toddler questions can provide an opportunity for you to listen, and your child to share.
  6. Give your child choices – Providing the opportunity for your child to choose between the green or purple shoes, for example, helps improve communication skills and can enhance their confidence in their ability to make appropriate choices and learn what they do and do not like. If you always choose for them, they will miss out on an opportunity to learn from choices they make.
  7. Be patient – Children’s vocabularies develop at different rates. If your child is exposed to more than one language, for example, it may take longer for her to have an expansive vocabulary in any one of those languages, but the benefit is that she will learn multiple languages at a young age and eventually her vocabulary will blossom.
  8. Remember that kids act out of emotion – As adults, we have the ability to rationalize or think things through, but toddlers do not yet have those skills. You can help your child get in touch with his emotions by putting a name to how he appears to feel. For example, you may choose to say things such as, “it seems to me that you are _____ (frustrated, sad, angry, etc).” This will help them begin to get a sense of what emotions are and how normal it is for them to feel the various types. Connecting with their feelings will help them communicate their emotions to you as they continue to grow up.
  9. Set your child up for success –If your child is hungry or tired, they will be less able to effectively communicate with you. Support your child by ensuring they have nutritious meals and snacks throughout the day and sufficient sleep at night and naptime during the day.
  10. Ask for help – There are many great books and articles available on parenting and communicating with young children. If you have not already done so, join a parenting group and ask the other moms to share valuable resources.

Dr. Trevor Holly Cates received her medical degree from the National College of Natural Medicine and was the first woman licensed as a naturopathic doctor in California. Dr. Cates practices in Park City, Utah where she sees patients from around the world as the Naturopathic Physician and Nutrition and Wellness Coordinator at the Golden Door Spa at the Waldorf Astoria Park City. She successfully treats a variety of acute and chronic health concerns with a holistic, integrative approach. In addition to private practice, Dr. Cates was appointed by [former] Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to California’s Bureau of Naturopathic Medicine Advisory Council, and she serves on the board of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. She also is a frequent lecturer and writes articles on natural medicine for various local and national publications.

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