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How Much Does Your Toddler Understand?

Updated on July 6, 2010

What Does Your Toddler Understand?

Your toddler's limited vocabulary is not a reflection on how much your toddler understands communication. All of us are both transmitters and receivers, when we originate a communication we are transmitting and when we are listening to a communication we are receiving. What we are communicating goes far beyond the words we speak. Your toddler may not understand your words but your toddler most certainly understands the emotions and the attitudes that are behind your verbal communication. It is said that our verbal communication represents about 7% of communication. The rest of our communication is made up the mental images, emotions and moods that accompany our words. It is these mental images, emotions and moods that transmit to your toddler and they are what your toddler receives as communication. Therefore to communicate effectively with your toddler it is vital that you are aware of exactly what it is you are transmitting with your spoken words.

Toddlers Understand More Than They Are Given Credit For

When my eldest daughter was one and a half I worked part time. While I was at work she was in the care of a woman by the name of Susan who was a stay at home mum with two young daughters of her own. Each time she went my daughter would take with her a doll by the name of Baby Sally. My daughter was only in Susan's for care for about six months. I found another caregiver for her as she started displaying a reluctance to go to Susan's where before she had been eager to go. When she was three I was in her bedroom sorting through her toys to discard the one's that she had outgrown or was no longer interested in. In so doing I came across Baby Sally at the bottom of the toy box. As I held Baby Sally I remembered when I had bought her, my daughter's first doll. Baby Sally had come with a little blue bathtub and my daughter had loved to wash and dry Baby Sally before bundling her in a receiving blanket.

As I went through the toys I consulted my youngster as to what toys she wanted to keep and what toys she wanted to give away. When I asked her about Baby Sally she announced that she did not want Baby Sally because Baby Sally was ugly! I knew how much she had loved the doll and what loving care she had given it and I was at a loss to explain her negative feelings towards it. Ugly was not a word that was used in our home. "Who told you that?" I asked her. "Susan" she replied. "Susan kept saying over and over "What an ugly doll." It hit me full in the face that even though my daughter had a very limited vocabulary at one and a half she certainly understood communication well enough. Over time, of course, her vocabulary did expand and it always surprised me when she related some memory from "when she was a baby" long before she could speak a full sentence.

Behind The Toddler's Tantrum - Where Are You?

Much has been written about the infamous tantrums of a two year old. The general consensus seems to run along the lines of your formerly sweet child now taken to throwing hissy fits at the worst possible moments is due to said child's demanding your attention. I'm not going to argue this point but I am going to put forth a different perspective on the demand for your attention. When you put your attention on someone or something you flow your energy towards that someone or something. As a parent and an adult there are often multiple people and things vying for your attention. If your attention is on a future potential problem, communication or task or it is on a past upset or situation you are not present, you are elsewhere. Even though your two year old is beginning to assert some independence they are still very reliant on your presence. They are masters at perceiving when you are here now, present and also when you are elsewhere, absent. While they are exploring their world they still want to know where you are. Not your body, but YOU! They know full well when you have gone absent from the environment and their reaction to that absence is to bring you back to present time, even if it means they have to employ a negative means to get you HERE! They don't necessarily need your full on attention full on them but they do need you to be PRESENT! If you are wandering about in the theater of your mind the only means they have to get you back into present time is to, as the song goes, raise a little hell, raise a little hell, raise a little hell.

When we disconnect from our present time environment we disconnect from everyone and everything in that environment. We have all been at the effect of others who go absent on us and have experienced first hand how unpleasant and disconcerting it can be. We can even find ourselves on the negative side of the split in our efforts to bring another or others back to present time. So too it is with your child.

Face It - It's Either Sink Or Swim!


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    • raisingme profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Fraser Valley, British Columbia

      Ivorwen, I remember when I was going through some difficult circumstances and while driving in my car with my children I thought to myself, "What kind of mother am I dragging my children through this mess?" Although it was an unspoken thought my daughter responded with, "You are a good kind of mummy!" On another occasion, again while driving, I was turning things over in the theatre of my mind when my daughter interrupted my "chewing" with, "Mummy listen to the radio." Slightly annoyed at the interruption I told her that I was busy thinking. "But mummy, she said emphatically, you have to listen to the radio!" I did, just to keep her quiet so I could get back to my very important thinking. The song playing was "Let It Be." Nellieanna I definitely learned along the way the benefits of increasing my Presence.

      Thank you both for your much appreciated comments.

    • Ivorwen profile image


      8 years ago from Hither and Yonder

      Lately, as I try to deal with many things that are going on in my household, I find my toddler trying to call me back with a gentle, "Momma, I love you." Over and over again. He only does it when I am extremely lost in thought.

      I finally told him that I need to think and can't be with him all the time. He responded by sitting on my lap.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      8 years ago from TEXAS

      This is so true. I recall times being on both ends of that equation. And in today's world in which parents are so non-present, it's especially vital that they really be THERE when they are. Great article. Thank you.


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