Use Your Words: Teaching Your Child to Communicate

Especially in the very early years, it can be difficult for your child to communicate how he (or she) is feeling. Instead of being able to use words to properly express themselves, children often do a lot of pointing and grunting. And if that doesn’t work, they proceed to throw tantrums. Tantrums might include hitting, kicking, screaming and crying.

None of these behaviors are effective, but your child doesn’t understand that. All he understands is that he wants or needs something he cannot find a way to vocalize, and he is frustrated that you cannot understand what is wrong.

Teaching your child to communicate can be beneficial at virtually any age. As soon as your toddler is old enough to know what they want, and distinguish that item from other items, he is most likely ready and willing to learn how to communicate that information to you. You are responsible for teaching your child productive means of communication instead of using his fists and teeth. This can be a daunting task, but children are built to learn.

Here are some helpful tips for teaching your child to communicate:


First and foremost, let your child know that you are listening to him. He needs to know that someone is trying to understand his needs. So when he is trying to tell you something, give him the benefit of your undivided attention. Tell him that you are listening and that you want to help him. Explain that you know he wants something; can he let you know what it is he needs?

Listen closely to the words (or partial words) that he is saying. If he is trying to say a word, but can’t quite form the syllables, try to help him out a little without pushing. For example, if he is saying “Tees! Tees!” try to think of what he might be referring to, and then ask him. “Honey, are you saying ‘Cheese’?” If he nods encouragingly, you know you are on the right track. If not, keep trying.

Speak Up

Sometimes, your child might not be willing or able to speak up and tell you what it is he wants. It is up to you to vocalize his needs for him. If he isn’t quite up to using words, instead let him rely on leading you to where the object is and pointing. Then, once you have found what it is he wants, tell him the word.

“This is a cracker. Do you want a cracker?” When he nods, hand it to him and repeat the word. If he responds by saying the word himself, reinforce that milestone with praise. Let him know how proud you are. Talking to your child in a calm and friendly yet adult voice is one of the ways your child learns language skills.

Explain and Enforce

When your child is acting out, especially in public, it can be beneficial to pull him aside and take the time to figure out what is wrong. If there is a lot going on at once, your child might simply be over-stimulated. Pulling him aside for a little one on one may help. Your example will also teach him patience.

Explain to him by bending down and talking to him eye-to-eye, in a quiet, calm voice that he needs to calm down for a minute, and then he can tell you – with his words – what is wrong. Once he is able to articulate what is wrong or what he wants, you can explain to him, patiently, that throwing a fit is not the right way to get what he wants. Instead, if he can ask nicely, he may get it.

Always use positive reinforcement. When your child is finally communicating what he wants, praise him for using his words. Teaching your child to communicate without throwing a tantrum takes time, but with a little patience, you can help your child talk through his problems.