19 - 21 Months

What to do when you don’t know what your toddler is asking for

Sometimes, knowing what your toddler wants when they ask for something can be tricky. They may not know the word or be able to pronounce it clearly. Before the frustration gets to both of you, try this approach to make your toddler feel heard and build their vocabulary in the process ❤️

4 steps to understanding your toddler’s request  

Step 1: Suggest

When your toddler says something you can’t understand, try suggesting a couple of specific items they may want: “Would you like a banana or a peach?”

Step 2: Wait

Pause to give your toddler time to respond. It may be several seconds before they answer, nod, point, or reach for one of the options. If they shake their head “no” or turn their face away, you can suggest another choice or two.

Step 3: Repeat

If they choose one of the options, repeat their choice back to them. “You would like a peach.” Then, say the word “peach” one more time for emphasis.

Step 4: Reinforce

Encourage your child to try pronouncing the word. This can help them make the connection between the object and its label. Resist the temptation to correct them if they don’t say it exactly right. Instead, repeat it again as part of a phrase. For example, you could say, “You would like to eat a peach,” or “I want a peach, please.”  

These extra words—”eat” and “want”—can help your toddler understand the context of the main word, “peach,” while teaching additional vocabulary. 

RELATED: Why not to correct your toddler’s speech—and what to do instead

What if your child still doesn’t feel understood?

Even if you still can’t understand their request, you can let them know they’re important to you. Try getting down at eye level with them and offering a hug. Explain that you’re trying to help, but that you just don’t understand. The reassurance and security they get from you may diffuse the situation and help your child move on. 

Learn more about the research

Schwab, J. F., & Lew-Williams, C. (2016). Repetition across successive sentences facilitates young children’s word learning. Developmental Psychology, 52(6), 879.


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Posted in: 19 - 21 Months, 22 - 24 Months, Language, Communication, Speech Development, Lovevery App, Parenting, Child Development

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