By Raising Children Network
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With a lot of attitude and not too many words, your toddler needs your help to be understood.

Toddler touching noses with her dad
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Your toddler is listening to every word you say (even if you don’t notice it), and understands a lot more than you might think. He can be very sensitive and might get grumpy or burst into tears if you laugh at him.

Connecting with your toddler

You can make the most of your relationship with your toddler by connecting with her. Good family relationships are also important, because your toddler needs to feel secure, understood and accepted by the people who care for her most.  

At this age, your child is torn between his fear of being separated from you and his longing for independence. And his brain is just grasping the idea that he can change how the world works for him. He’s now driven to communicate so he can get help with everyday needs.

Your toddler’s world is one of big emotions mixed with communication skills that just can’t keep up. Her feelings can sometimes be too much for her, but she can’t find the words to tell you what’s wrong. This can lead to lots of frustration, which can lead to tantrums.

To help your toddler handle and express big emotions, you can:

  • help him put feelings into words, and talk through any angry feelings
  • stay calm, even when your child is upset – this models positive ways to handle big feelings
  • prepare your child for situations that might be upsetting – for example, times when your child might have to be separated from you
  • create a low-risk environment for your child to explore, be independent and make mistakes.
A stressful day at work might be followed by a new set of tasks and demands when you get home. Here are some ideas to help you really leave work behind and be present with your child.

Communicating with your toddler

Talking is important. Try the following tips for positive communication with your toddler:

  • Really tune in to what your child is trying to say. Notice the emotions behind it.
  • Make regular time to communicate with your child in your own special way. Even two minutes every half hour makes a difference.
  • When your toddler comes to you, try to drop whatever you’re doing to talk. It’s likely your child only really needs your undivided attention for a minute or two.
  • Get down on your child’s level to talk by kneeling or squatting.
  • Try to let your child finish sentences before interrupting, no matter how meandering those sentences might be!
  • Read to your child and tell stories. Picture books help children learn about language.
  • Always be honest. Children are brighter than many of us think. When we lie to them, we lose their trust.
  • Babies and young children read their parents’ faces. A simple smile from you can improve your baby’s self image and brain development.
  • No matter how hard you try, you’ll probably have a  ‘I can’t believe I said that!’ moment at some stage. It’s often best to just admit you’re wrong and say sorry.
  • Negotiation doesn’t mean giving in. Phrase your requests so that your child can say  ‘yes’.
We all like being told what we can do, rather than what we shouldn’t do. Your toddler is just the same. Instead of saying, ‘Don’t run in the house’, say ‘Please walk when you’re in the house’. ‘Don’t yell’ can become ‘Please talk quietly’. And when your toddler does what you ask, give lots of praise and encouragement.

Encouraging toddler talk

When stuck for words, your toddler will use actions to communicate what she wants. She might tug on your pants to be picked up, shake or nod her head, and use clear gestures to tell you to go away.

If you’ve introduced a few baby language signs, your child might start using them by 18 months. He might even make up some signs of his own – look out for these moments of creative brilliance, and join your child in making up a couple you can share as your own secret code. One favourite is the ‘I love you’ sign, as it can help smooth goodbyes and be ‘spoken’ from afar.

By talking out loud about everything, even your chores as you do them, you can help build your child’s vocabulary and language skills.

If you’re considering teaching your child more than one language, the answer is simple: do what feels right for you.

When your toddler relies on body language, you can help develop talking. Repeat what you think your child wants in words and explain your response. For instance, ‘You want to be picked up but Mummy’s got something in her hand, so you can hold my other hand’, or ‘I can see you don’t want that. What about this?’ You can read more about talking and listening to your toddler.
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  • Newsletter snippet: Toddler connecting and communicating: in a nutshell

    By Raising Children Network

    Toddlers’ communication skills can’t keep up with their emotions. They need help to be understood. You can also help your child handle her emotions by showing how to put feelings into words.

    Tips for good communication

    • Tune in to what your toddler’s trying to say.
    • Make time to communicate regularly with your child.
    • Give your toddler your attention when he’s talking.
    • Kneel or squat so you’re on the same level.
    • Try not to interrupt.
    • Always be honest.
    • Try to use positive rather than negative words and sentences.
    • Help develop your toddler’s language skills by repeating what you think your child is trying to say when she uses nonverbal language rather than words.
    • Reading together helps your child learn about language.

    This article is an extract only. For more information, visit

    Sourced from the Raising Children Network's comprehensive and quality-assured Australian parenting website,

  • Last Updated 09-01-2012
  • Last Reviewed 07-12-2011