- Understanding toddlers can be tough! Their speech is unclear at first, but it gets better by age 4.
- Help your toddler communicate by asking questions, getting down to their eye level, and repeating their words.
- Encourage talking with positivity and patience. Let your toddler communicate, even if they make mistakes!

It’s so cute when your little one starts to talk! But as many parents know, it can be hard to understand what they’re saying. Toddler communication can be tricky! It’s typical that you’ll only be able to understand about 25% of what your little one says when they’re 1 year old, and that increases by 25% each year until age 4. In other words, there might be a few years when you wonder, what did my toddler just say?

It can be frustrating for your toddler (and you!) if you don’t know what they’re saying.

Your toddler may be trying to ask you for something simple or telling you what they want, and you may be unable to understand what that is. First, know that it’s ok and this is a typical experience for many parents! There are also some things you can try to communicate better with your little one.

Mother and toddler in park

Do: Gather more information

If what your toddler is saying is a mystery, then gather clues to try and solve it! Do this by:

  • Asking them to show you what they’re talking about. They can point or take your hand and lead you to what they’re talking about.
  • Thinking about the context, including where you are and the time of day. For example if it’s close to meal time, they may be telling you what they’d like to eat!
  • Getting down at their eye level. This helps them to communicate with someone at their height, and may help you better understand what they’re saying or read their facial expressions.

Don’t: Only respond with “I can’t understand you.”

It can be discouraging for your little one to hear this, and they may get frustrated. The best way to understanding toddler speech is by continuing to listen to them and trying your best!

To be clear, it’s ok to let your child know you’re having trouble understanding them! That’s just the case sometimes. But even if you can’t understand them, continue to encourage them to speak by asking questions, using phrases like “tell me more,” giving it your best guess, and repeating their words back to them.

Do: Slowly repeat their words.

Repeating their words back to them can help with pronunciation and can help you get closer to figuring out what they want to say!

  • Try repeating the part you did understand, and then asking a question. For example, say “You drew that picture and then what happened?”

Father and son bonding while playing in park

  • If you figure it out, slowly repeat back the part you didn’t understand before. For example, say “Oh! You drew that picture and then you lost your crayon.” This helps them hear the words back so they can work on pronunciation.

Don’t: Correct them.

If a child pronounces a word wrong, don’t say “no, that’s not how you say that.” This can be discouraging, and may cause children to think twice before speaking. Instead, answer them and repeat the word they used with the correct pronunciation. So if they say, “I’m free years old,” respond back by saying; “Yes! You are three years old!”

Do: Stay positive and curious.

Learning to communicate is an experience for you and baby! Embrace it by staying positive. Do this by:

  • Tell them you know they’re trying their best. Also tell them you’re trying your best to understand.
  • Ask questions that may help you to understand what they’re talking about.
  • Take a moment to yourself if needed, or take a few deep breaths to keep yourself calm.

Don’t: Give up!

Even if you don’t get to the bottom of what they’re saying, know that your efforts to listen and connect with your child are helping their communication development! Don’t give up on listening to them, and continue to encourage them to talk.

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