Translating toddler talk: What we say versus what toddlers hear

Posted in Learning and Development.

Understanding your toddler isn’t rocket science. It’s harder. At least rocket science comes with a manual and a system based on facts and evidence. Communicating with your toddler relies on a complex system of trial and error and pure luck. And sometimes our wires get crossed.

The toddler stage is one of the best. Children this age are so curious about the world around them and it’s simply incredible to be their guides on this fun phase. But sometimes it may seem like you are talking to a brick wall when you try to communicate with your toddler.

Is it because they simply do not understand what you are saying or that they are choosing to ignore you? We will never quite know (but I am going with the latter). 

Here are a few of the miscommunication mishaps you can most likely relate to if you have a toddler in tow.

Toddler girl excited

At breakfast

You say: “Here is your favourite green cup.”

Your toddler hears: “Throw the cup on the ground and cry until Mummy gets you the dirty blue one.”

During story time

You say: “Choose one book for Mummy to read to you.”

Your toddler hears: “Bring me every single stuffed animal you own.”

During quiet time

You say: “Let’s watch a different movie other than the one that has been on repeat for the past three months.”

Your toddler hears: “If Frozen isn’t playing in the background at all times, then it is completely acceptable to yell and scream.”

At lunch time

You say: “Please eat your lunch.”

Your toddler hears: “Dump the entire contents on the carpet and eat the dog’s food instead.”

At school pick-up

You say: “We have to pick your brother up in five minutes.”

Your toddler hears: “Fall asleep on the lounge.”

When you attempt to clean

You say: “Let’s throw this ratty old baby toy that you haven’t played with for months into the bin.”

Your toddler hears: “Oh look, it’s your favourite toy ever!”

When you have an appointment across town

You say: “We have to be quick; we are late.”

Your toddler hears: “Stop and touch every single thing you see on your way to the car.”

Young toddler looking at tree

When you’re doing the grocery shopping

You say: “No, you cannot have a chocolate bar.”

Your toddler hears: “Now is a good time to lie down on the shopping centre floor and scream you lungs out.”

At bath time

You say: “Are you ready for a bath?”

Your toddler hears: “Now is a good time to go run around outside and eat dirt.”

At dinner time

You say: “We’re having the yummy chicken that you loved last week.”

Your toddler hears: “Chicken is the worst thing on earth.”

When it’s bedtime

You say: “Goodnight sweetheart.”

Your toddler hears: “Take off all your clothes and wee on the floor.”


If you’re feeling a little lost in translation when it comes to communicating with your toddler, then you are clearly doing it all right. Because toddlers are gentle, loving, kind and cuddly, but they sure don’t always understand what you’re saying to them!

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