By Zahava Goldstein

From the day you come home with your newborn, you begin speaking to your baby. We hear ourselves saying, “Oh, you sound hungry; let Mama feed you,” or “I hear you crying–Mama is coming.” Sometimes it even sounds funny, knowing that they don’t understand us. It is at those moments when language development begins for a child.

When my children were babies, my friend would often say that she could imagine me as the type of mother who would talk to her baby while pushing the carriage. She was right; I would talk about the weather, the trees, the flowers, or the sounds that we heard, even knowing that they were too young to understand. As parents, we tend to know how to speak to our infants; yet as our children get older, we wonder, “Are they even hearing me?” We can improve our children’s ability to listen simply by changing some of the words that we use. Here are some helpful hints.

  1. Always engage with your child by maintaining eye contact. We often don’t realize just how big we look to a toddler, so when talking, don’t be afraid to bend down and reach your child on his or her level.
  2. Address your children by name, which helps keep them focused on your communications.
  3. Speak in simple sentences, such as “I need you to come eat,” or “Let me help you clean up the toys.” With younger children, using fewer words when giving a directive or request will help their understanding of what you are trying to say.
  4. Try to always use positive language. Instead of saying “Don’t grab” or “Stop that,” rephrase by saying “Say please when you want the toy” or “Let’s try something different.”
  5. Praise your children for their efforts and they will be more inclined to listen to further instructions. For example: “I like how you helped clean up the blocks; let’s do your puzzles now,” or “You came to the table so nicely, I know that you will listen when we have to change into pajamas.”
  6. Children are given instructions all day long, so by giving them choices we encourage them to develop their own ideas, which increases their sense of control in their environment. When possible, let your child decide which of two shirts he wants to wear, or which of two approved snacks he wants to eat.
  7. Toddlers often yell or scream to express frustration or when they lack the verbal skills necessary for communicating their needs and wants. The louder your child yells, the softer your voice should be. When you repeat phrases like “I hear what you are saying” or “I am here to help you,” your child senses that their parent is supportive and calm, which helps reduce the need for screaming in future instances.
  8. By asking open-ended questions, such as “Tell me a fun thing that happened today in school,” or “It sounds like you had fun; what else did you do?” we demonstrate respect and interest in our child’s life, which increases communication. This is different from “Did you have fun today?” which only yields “yes” or “no” responses.
  9. Toddlers don’t always have the words to express their emotions, which often results in tantrums. By giving children the words to identify what they are feeling, we exhibit empathy and understanding; for example: “You must be sad if you are crying so much,” or “You look upset that you had to share your toy.”
  10. Always demonstrate respect for your child. When children feel heard, they will be more inclined to communicate in the future.

Wishing you a Positive Parenting day!

Positive Parenting Plus is a private parent-coaching agency founded by Zahava Goldstein, a certified school psychologist with a dual master’s in school psychology and special education and over 20 years of experience evaluating children, as a school counselor, and as a parent adviser. All reader comments, questions, and feedback are welcomed by Positive Parenting Plus ( Please “like” on Facebook @zahavagoldstein and follow on Instagram @positiveparentingplus for daily parenting tips.


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