What can I do if I can’t understand my child’s speech?

Apr 12, 2022 | Language, Speech Tips

Your two-year-old is finally talking! YAY!!! 👏 She is saying new words every day, and she’s even starting to string words together into short sentences. There’s only one problem: you can’t understand what she is saying most of the time. ⁠⁠What do you do when you can’t understand your child’s speech?

Does this sound familiar? If the answer is a resounding YES, we want to assure you that this is not uncommon. It happens all the time, and we have some suggestions for you.⁠⁠

⁠⁠What to do if you can’t understand your child’s speech:

TELL YOUR TODDLER TO SHOW YOU

If you don’t know what your toddler is saying or trying to communicate, ask her to show you. Have her point it out or take your hand and lead you toward the item. You can say, “Can you show me what you want?”⁠⁠ She’ll be happy to have your full attention and you will have demonstrated that what she is trying to say really matters!

TRY AND TAKE A GUESS

If you have an inkling of what your little one is trying to tell you, then you can take a guess. If she is looking up at the out-of-reach snacks on the counter, say, “Oh, do you want a snack?”⁠⁠ It’s helpful to repeat the word to help her learn the correct pronunciation. Keep trying if you haven’t guessed correctly! Sometimes your toddler will have fun making a game out of it, but other times she might feel frustrated. Do your best to keep it a positive experience.

GIVE A CHOICE

Again, if you have an idea of what your toddler is trying to communicate, then you can give her a choice to help narrow things down. If she is looking intently at the fruit bowl, but you are not sure exactly what she wants, you can say, “I think you either want a banana or an apple!” Hold out the two options and let her pick. 

This is a great way to increase vocabulary throughout the day and to encourage your toddler to say new words. As you’re giving choices, pay attention to the way your child pronounces the new words. This will help you to understand these new words when she’s asking for something out of context of what you’re doing.   ⁠⁠

LET YOUR TODDLER KNOW THAT YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND

There will be times when you have no clue what your child is trying to say. In cases like this, after you have asked her to show you and you’ve taken a few guesses, just be honest and let her know that you don’t understand. Some toddlers will accept this and move on, and others will become frustrated. Both responses are completely normal. If your toddler does become frustrated, we recommend trying to redirect her attention to something else. If her message was super important, she will find a way to let you know! ⁠⁠

When to seek help when you can’t understand your toddler’s speech:

If you are concerned about your toddler’s language development and wonder if you should be able to understand her a little better, talk to your pediatrician and/or a certified speech and language pathologist. Review the language milestones to see if your child is on track or if she might need a little extra help with her speech and language. 

Remember, early intervention is key!

**Our Time to Talk: Toddler Course is designed to help you to help your baby expand their language and move them up The Language Ladder, from single words to sentences! 

We hope this is helpful. These are just a few tips that have worked for us with our own kids and for our clients!

To learn simple and effective strategies to help get your little one talking, check out our Talk on Track (newborn-14 months) and Time to Talk: Toddler Course (15-36 months). We’d love to equip you to experience the joy of your little one talking to you!

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Hi! We're Brooke & Bridget.

We know what you want most is for your child to talk. With more than 20 years of combined experience, we’ve diagnosed and treated hundreds of children with a variety of communication disorders and delays... if your child is having trouble communicating, we can absolutely help. 

We love everything about our work, but we're most excited about guiding parents with practical tips to integrate speech and language techniques into their everyday routines. We'd be honored to partner with you, too!

(And yes, we really are sisters!)

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