Translating toddlerspeak: Decoding the things your two year old says

Posted in Learning and Development.

When babies cry, it’s not always easy to work out what they want. Generally, it’s one of about four things – they’re hungry, too hot, too cold, or their nappy needs changing. Simple (or not!).

As they grow bigger, the early stages of toddlerhood become about deciphering their code – does ‘la ta’ mean ‘water’? Or ‘Mummy you look so beautiful today’? (Sadly, it usually seems to be the former).

And as they get older still, they become even easier to understand. Mostly. Because there are times they say things – and even though the words make sense, what they say isn’t necessarily what they mean.

Here are some of my kids’ most popular phrases, and what (in my experience) they mean:

‘I’m not tired’

Translation: I am so unbelievably tired that there’s a possibility I’ll fall asleep standing up. However, I’d really like to play with my toys.

‘I’m sorry’

Translation: I don’t necessarily understand what I’ve done wrong, but I’d really like to play with my toys again. Or at the very least have a different conversation.

‘I need to go to the toilet’

Translation: It’s possible that my pants are already slightly damp so I should probably make a trip to the bathroom.

toddler toilet undies potty training sl

‘I don’t need to go to the toilet’

Translation: Too late! I have already been in my pants.

‘I’m hungry’

Translation: I’d like to eat just one bite of this apple, and a spoonful of yoghurt, and one sultana from that packet you just opened for me. The floor told me it’s hungry too, so I’ll share the rest with it.

‘I’m not hungry’

Translation: I’m not sure what I want to eat, but if you order something for yourself I might just have a taste. Or half of it. What’s yours is mine, right?


Translation: No. Or maybe. Or sometimes yes.

‘I want that… (insert thing here)’

Translation: That thing is the single most important thing in my whole life right now. It’s more important than any of your petty expectations of my behaviour. It’s more important than my social relationships, and the air I’m breathing. In fact, if I don’t get it, my only legitimate response is to throw myself on the ground and wail loudly like the world is ending.


Translation: The sound of your voice is incredible, especially the way it changes the more times I use this word. Please continue to talk until I tell you to stop.

‘I don’t know’

Translation: I’m either a) not listening to what you’re asking me, or b) the answer to your question puts me in a compromising position and I’m not sure I want to take the risk of answering.

‘Look at my new trick’

Translation: It’s probably worth sitting down because I’m about to do something that’s going to make you faint or wet your pants. Or possibly both.

toddler say sl nan

‘I can dress myself’

Translation: Your style sense has been slipping recently. I’ve got some ideas I think we should be trying. If this goes well, maybe we should consider allowing me to dress you too.

‘Whose birthday is it?’

Translation: Will I be getting presents today, or just a share in cake?

Have you got one to add? And let’s not even mention the things that we say to toddlers that get lost in translation.


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